Tag Archives: Tristan Thompson

Another January Rebirth for the Cavaliers

Four games, four wins, and an average margin of victory of almost 13 points.

This was the week of basketball provided by our Cleveland Cavaliers under the direction of their new head coach Tyronn Lue. Sure, Lue’s first game last Saturday, a 96-83 loss to Chicago, was likely to give GM David Griffin a small jolt of buyer’s remorse, but these last four games have most certainly solidified his confidence in the decision to replace David Blatt.

I think that it is safe to say that the way this team plays now is notably different from the previous regime. Its the same cast of characters but as a whole, it is a very different narrative.

One of my favorite decisions that Lue made right away is moving Tristan Thompson back into a starting role. If you look at the level of talent that he brings to the court, coupled with the amount of money we invested in him just before the start of the season, having him in the starting lineup just makes good basketball sense.

I know that I have been hard on Timofey Mozgov this season and most of it can be backed up with hard evidence. Having said that, I have not seen him play more consistently than I have in his role coming off of the bench this week.

Thompson and Mozgov are where they now belong in the rotation and I don’t anticipate that changing unless the very healthy and reliable Thompson goes down with an injury. As a Cleveland sports fan it is impossible to not have thoughts of an injury in the back of your mind considering the storied history of maladies that our sports figures have endured that end of derailing our championship hopes and dreams.

Here is an example of just that type of mindset. During our 117-103 victory of the San Antonio Spurs Saturday night, Kyrie Irving had a moment where he seemed to fall awkwardly on his knees and just played there for a moment.

Of course, ABC decided it was a perfect time to take a commercial break without addressing or showing whether Irving stood back up and appeared to be fine. The entire commercial break I was fidgeting in my seat while praying that I would not see an image of trainers working on Irving as soon as the broadcast returned.

Thankfully, I did not see that and there was never any mention of Irving getting up slowly or asking to be subbed out. Did I invent this entire scenario in my own mind or did I simply interpret things incorrectly?

Regardless, all is well in Cavalier country as our team has seemed to reinvent itself again in January. Some of my readers may wonder why I do not go more in depth about Lebron James’ role and accomplishments with this team.

James is the heart of this team and of course we would not be able to compete at the same level without him. Everyone knows that we can rely on him for scoring, defense and leadership.

From last year’s Finals we know that Lebron is not enough singularly to win us an NBA title. The contributions of Love, Irving, Dellavedova, Thompson, Smith and Shumpert are what will determine our eventual success level.

I would like to go player by player and give my opinion of each of those player’s role as it stands today.

Kevin Love – Love must continue to be a threat both inside the paint and outside the arc. He is getting more lift under his three point shots and we have seen a higher percentage of them being made. Under Coach Lue, he has been asked to produce more under the hoop and has not disappointed.

Kyrie Irving – I’ve said it before and I will say it as many times as it is deemed necessary. Irving is the best finisher in the NBA. His penetration under the basket causes defenders to leave their assignments which provides Smith, Love, Shumpert, James or Dellevedova enough space outside the arc to get off a clean, calculated shot when he kicks it out. Irving has been both hot and cold from long distance but any of those others have the potential to knock those down when called upon. Kyrie is a master facilitator in that respect.

Matthew Dellavedova – Delly has been able to not only find the player that we all cheered for against Atlanta in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, but to improve upon that player as well! He is no longer afraid to drive to the hoop and has shown an amazing increase in his three point percentage. He is a part of this team that could not be easily replaced if we lost him.

Tristan Thompson – His presence in the starting lineup is essential to our success. When matched up against the current King of NBA rebounding Detroit’s Andre Drummond, Thompson out rebounded him 14 to 8! This is an example that Cavs fans will do well to remember as we go up against more of the elite teams in this league.

J.R. Smith – Swish, as they call him, has become a much more important part of this team as the year has progressed. He is not only scoring fairly consistently for us but he is starting to contribute in other areas such as steals that are worth just as much as a basket because it takes potential points off of the board for our opponents.

Iman Shumpert – While Shumpert isn’t getting the minutes of J.R. most games, he is still putting forth his best effort with the minutes that he does get. I always look forward to opponents getting “Shumped” when he is on the floor. He is a true student of his adversaries and likely knows things about their tendencies that they may not even be aware of. This leads to a bevy of great defensive work from him.

We are about to embark on our February journey in the NBA. February brings the All Star Break and an opportunity to not only obtain a status report of the respective teams at the half way point of the season, but to remember why they all started playing the game in the first place; their love for it.

In Cleveland, January has been a month of transition for the second year in a row. I have high hopes of what this iteration of the Cleveland Cavaliers has in store for us in the months ahead.

David Griffin ushers in a Lue era in Cleveland

The Cleveland Cavaliers have set another record this week, though it remains to be seen whether it is one to be proud of or sorry for.

David Blatt celebrates with LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers during the second half at Quicken Loans Arena on November 8, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Cavaliers defeated the Pacers 101-97. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
David Blatt celebrates with LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers during the second half at Quicken Loans Arena on November 8, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Cavaliers defeated the Pacers 101-97. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Around 3:55pm on Friday, the Cleveland sports world let out a collective gasp when it was broken by Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the sports world’s premier NBA insider, that the Cavaliers organization had terminated Head Coach David Blatt. Not only was this news shocking and puzzling but it was simultaneously reported that Assistant Coach Tyronn Lue was being promoted to the position of Head Coach.

Lue would not assume the title of Interim Coach as is the traditional procedure when a coach is unexpectedly fired. He was immediately given the moniker of Head Coach with even some rumors of a two to three year deal already having been negotiated.

The aforementioned record that was set, is that Blatt is the first coach, since the league separated into two conferences, to ever be terminated when his team had the best win/loss record in their conference. That is not exactly what I would have hoped for in terms of a ground breaking statement, but the effectiveness of this strategy is yet to be determined.

Cavs General Manager David Griffin held a press conference Friday and alluded to the team not showing an inability to “galvanize” under Blatt’s leadership. He felt that the team was at a crossroads in terms of fixing this problem and a change needed to be made in order to continue moving towards their common goal of bringing an NBA championship to the City of Cleveland.

The primary and obvious speculation is that the decision, as many have been in the past two seasons, was influenced directly by Lebron James. Both Griffin and James have denied publicly that James had any say or that he was consulted on the final decision.

Do I think James went to Griffin and “suggested” that Lue be promoted and Blatt let go? No, I do not.

Do I think that James has had ups and downs with Blatt in terms of their coach/player relationship and that he may have known in the back of his head that this would be the end result someday? Absolutely, 100%.

It is important to note that the decision of who to name as the head coach of the Cavaliers was made BEFORE James announced his intent to return to Cleveland in July of 2014, and that while Griffin favored Lue to receive the position, Cavs owner Dan Gilbert preferred Blatt. This must have spawned an interesting conversation over at Quicken Loans Arena when the Sports Illustrated cover was revealed.

OK, Blatt is out and Lue is now the head coach of our team. The next question is, how will the team’s strategy and performance change with a coach that is rumored to be more “in touch” with the players?

Our first test of Lue’s coaching prowess would be against our Eastern Conference rival, the Chicago Bulls, on our home court. The team can only improve if Blatt was such a hinderance to their success, correct?

The final score from our matchup against the Bulls at home? A 96-83 loss where the Cavaliers looked listless and unable to execute.

Now this could be explained by the suddenness of the coaching change or from some apparent shifts in substitution patterns that Lue put into place. Whatever the reason, this team should never lose on their home court when they hold their opponent under 100 points.

All they could muster on the offensive end over 4 quarters was 83 points?!? In this particular game the lack of offense was the fault of several factors.

As a collective group, our bench players shot 3/14 for 8 points. Obviously, that is not a typical set of stats for Dellavedova, Shumpert and Tristan Thompson but this certainly contributed to the lack of scoring overall.

The second factor was that we shot just under 41% (9 for 22) from the free throw line. Essentially, the Cavaliers contracted out all of their free throw shooting for the night to Clippers forward Deandre Jordan; quite an embarrassment in my eyes.

The last factor, in my estimation, relates to offensive strategy. The Cavs took 24 three point shots against Chicago and were only able to make four.

This abysmal 16.7% from downtown means that even though we were showing that the long range shots were not going down, we still continued to take them. Is this just an example of the new coaching staff urging the players to “shoot through” their cold streak?

Listen, I was as shocked as anyone to hear of Blatt’s firing. Too often, there is a Twitter explosion (which I engaged in on a small scale right as it happened) and a rush to be the first to write an opinion piece on whether Griffin is a hero or a zero for this.

I knew that I needed time to process everything, hear all sides of the story, and even see our newly appointed coach in action for the first time before I could give my honest opinion on the matter. Now that most of that has occurred I am ready to levy a judgment!

My feeling is that the Cleveland Cavaliers, while possessing the title of best team in the East, showed that under David Blatt’s coaching, that they could not compete consistently against the best teams in the West. Seeing as the goal of management is acquiring a championship, a change needed to be made.

I applaud our GM as he has put himself into the position of being called either a genius or a goat when it is all said and done. He has certainly volunteered to put this team on the back of his decisions, as great leaders should.

Griffin’s legacy in this city is at stake now more than ever. To me, that is the very definition of ALL IN.

Cavs Show Their Double-edged Sword

The Cleveland Cavaliers have piled up three consecutive wins in the last five days and they have done it with both their offense and defense.

Offensive ‘Sword’

The Cavs put up three 100 point-plus wins against the Orlando Magic (104-79), the Toronto Raptors (122-100) and the Washington Wizards (121-115).

In those three games, LeBron James posted 29, 20 and 34 points respectively. His three point shot has been a work in progress this season so he has had to find other ways to attack the rim. So far this season, LeBron has scored 55.6% of his points in the paint, which would be the highest percentage in his career if he maintains this pace. In his last three games, he has scored 68.3% of his points in the paint, an astonishing number. Tonight against the Wizards, he was 4-9 from three-point range, hitting four of five in a three minute stretch.

But it isn’t only LeBron making an impact offensively. The Cavs’ bench has been a big impact as well.

Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images
Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

In the games against the Magic, Raptors and Wizards, you have seen these performances:
James Jones (Magic): 10 points
Mo Williams (Magic): 8 points
Timofey Mozgov (Magic): 7 points
Matthew Dellavedova (Raptors): 11 points

The lack of Cavs’ depth showed last season when they got to the NBA Finals. They were forced to start Delly and Thompson and players such as Mike Miller and James Jones were forced to play a high amount of minutes. They were put into spots where they weren’t used to playing.

This Cavs’ team is different. Because of injuries early in the season, other players have been forced to step up. When Irving returns, the Cavs’ rotation will be 11 deep, which is one less than the 13 needed for the active roster. Right now, they are the deepest team in the NBA and it has only gotten deeper now that Kyrie Irving has returned and is playing at a high level.

Defensive ‘Sword’

The Cavs’ defense shined against the Magic, in a game that was fueled with emotion, holding them to 79 points and shooting 38.2% from the field for the entire game. Their defense also had a strong two quarters against the Magic, which helped them build their lead. In those 1st and 2nd quarters, they held the Magic to only 32 points.

The player who had the biggest impact against the Magic? Kevin Love. Love’s defense is vastly underrated. Channing Frye, the Magic’s starting power forward went for 3 points on 1-4 shooting. We all know how good defensively LeBron and Iman Shumpert are, but Love hasn’t been exactly praised for his defense.

Cleveland is 3rd in the NBA in points allowed with 96 points per game. They also force other teams to hold the ball. The Cavs do not allow passes to open players. They rank 5th in the NBA in opponents assists.

Double-Edged Sword

The most complete game the Cavs played was against the Orlando Magic, blowing them out 104-79. The entire Cavs’ team put out a great effort against the Magic. They only had FOUR turnovers for the entire game.

It is awesome to see what Iman Shumpert’s return has done to this Cavs team. He is such a great defender coming off the bench and can guard multiple positions. In the game against the Magic, he had a +21 plus/minus for the 21 minutes he was on the court. That is outstanding.

The most interesting thing I saw during these games? It would have to been the line-up that the Cavs put out there tonight against the Wizards. They had Kyrie, Delly, JR, Shumpert and Thompson, four guards and a power-forward. It gave the Wizards problems, regardless of the fact that Irving went #KYRIDICULOUS on them, scoring 10 straight points to start the 4th Quarter.

Coming up, the Cavs continue their six-game road trip with stops in Minnesota, Philadelphia, Dallas, San Antonio and Houston. Then, they come back home for revenge against the Golden State Warriors

NBA Darwinism Must Live On

The political season is here and will last way too long. Bluster, accusations, inflammatory comments and life history of candidates will all be part of the year long agony. The debates and interviews will have topics the American people will stand behind or push away. Present laws will be chastised and proposed rules will be scrutinized. Topics will form people’s decision and nudge ballots being cast. The NBA has two “laws” receiving scrutiny. Two laws with hundreds of proposed changes and opinions. Laws begging for debate, analysis and action. The first is the intentional fouling for possession and stalling…otherwise known as “hack-a-______” The other is changing the draft lottery to prevent tanking. The changes discussed are pollution for what really needs to happen…nothing. Leave the rules as is and the league will be stronger for it. I will show you why and I will expect your “no change” ballot to be cast in 2017. The first issue on the ballot known as “Hack-a-_____” has been around for quite a while. Shaquille O’Neal was the most popular and recent example we all know. The decision seems simple. Option 1 is to foul the most dominant player and force him to shoot free throws where he shoots 50% from the free throw line. Option 2 is to allow him to catch the ball in the post and either try to score or pass out of double teams to open shooters. He shoots 60% from the field and 2.5 assists per game. I know what option I would choose. la-sp-nba-hack-jordan-howard-2015051 This issue has now moved to new players now that Shaq has moved on. Andre Drummond, Deandre Jordan and Dwight Howard are the most recent and popular recipients. These fouls are causing pundits and league executives to scream foul. Their main contention being it slows down the game and causes a boring brand. I would contend the bad brand of basketball comes from one simple source. Lack of ability or dedication to practice a simple skill. Children are taught and forced to shoot free throws throughout their basketball life. I had to run suicides and then shoot free throws. If you made both, you were done running, if you missed one…one suicide, if you missed two…two suicides. The league wanting to change rules so lazy players can stay on the floor is ridiculous.Shaq was a renowned lazy worker off the court. His weight gain, inability to add any shooting to his repertoire and improved free throw shooting points to this. Not to mention Phil Jackson has pointed to it in his book, “The Last Season.” The league has even gone as far as to say a foul must take place in the pace of play in order to keep the hacking from happening at egregious times. Coddling players is causing intentional fouls to look like this:

I don’t think this is what the NBA was hoping for. The promoting of “fake fouling” or nudging players while they set screens is not better than just bear-hugging the intended player. Improvements can be made. Role models are available for today’s player. See Blake Griffin and Karl Malone. Blake Griffin has gone from a 52% free throw shooter in year two to a 72% free throw shooter last year and this year. Karl Malone improved from 48% to 75%. If the league wants to mandate changes to keep “hacking” maybe they should try required suicides and free throw practice. The second issue on the ballot is tanking for high draft picks. There is one “model” franchise taking tanking to a whole new level. The Philadelphia 76ers are the tanking role model. They have announced their plan to build through the draft and even titled it “the process.” The Sixers stockpile of talent from this process consists of three centers (one who hasn’t played a second of basketball for two years), one player over 30, a bunch of role players, foreign players competing across the pond and…nothing else. They traded the poor shooting, pass first Michael Carter Williams after he won rookie of the year and signed the poor shooting, pass first Kendall Marshall as a free agent. They have draft picks abound coming the next two years but when you look at Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel, Guillermo Hernangomez, Richuan Homes, Arturas Gudaitis, JP Tokoto, Luka Mitrovic, KJ Daniels, Jerami Grant, Russ Smith, Vasilije Micic and Nemanja Dangubic confidence is not high for Sixers fans. The NBA is evaluating rule changes to prevent tanking. My question is…why? The Sixers made this decision. They have NEVER received the first pick during “ the process” (which would have garnered Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Victor Oladipo) and they are not going to be good any time soon. Proof that the system is working. Why change a system to keep AN organization from making “let’s lose on purpose” decisions that doom them for a decade? Don’t keep natural selection from happening. If the owners of the Sixers keep Sam Hinkie on as the decision maker they are earning every second of what comes. The NBA needs to let this happen so other organizations will not even think about following suit. Sacrifice the Sixers for the better good of the league. This concludes my campaign and I look forward to your vote in 2016

How Good Are The Cavaliers Thus Far?

Our Cleveland Cavaliers have taken us on quite a ride this year. We have already experienced our share of ups and downs.

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 23: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks on during the game against the Orlando Magic on November 23, 2015 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Rocky Widner/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** LeBron James
CLEVELAND, OH – NOVEMBER 23: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks on during the game against the Orlando Magic on November 23, 2015 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Rocky Widner/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** LeBron James

This week, I would like to breakdown my thoughts on our team, player by player. I think discussing the progress (or lack thereof) for each player could help us understand how we have gotten to a 15-7 record and held onto the number one spot in the Eastern Conference. Lebron James: James is obviously the leader of this team. His 26.4 pts/game, 7.7 rebounds and 6.4 assists a game have him ranked in the top 10 in the NBA. This year has been no different in terms of his playing style. His minutes are being more closely managed but when the game is on the line, minutes don’t matter and “The King” takes over games. Kevin Love: At 17.8 pts/game, 11 rebounds and 2.5 assists, Love has been our number two producer on offense behind James. While he had a red hot start to the season his numbers have dropped some and he has only hit one three point shot in the last five games. J.R. Smith: Smith also had some difficulty hitting his three pointers at the beginning of the season. He managed to only make six of them in the first seven games. Over the last 15 games, Smith has hit 33 and has helped stretch the opponent’s defense more often as a result. He has also improved his defensive contributions over the last eight games with 11 total steals. Timofey Mozgov: The Cavaliers seven-foot center has been both a blessing and a curse so far this year. His turnovers and 4.1 rebounds/game have been a bit of a liability. There have been moments where I have thought that maybe he has figured out his role on the team, but he still makes an overabundance of mental errors. This causes the team to be less effective when he is on the court. Tristan Thompson: Thompson continues to be a strong contributor to this team coming off of the bench. His work ethic and focus on the glass, help to keep us in games when our starters are resting on the bench. When Thompson is in for Love, we lose some offensive potential but maintain our defensive presence. I would like to see him be more involved in taking shots from the paint and/or drawing fouls. Matthew Dellavedova: Delly has been our most improved player this year in my eyes. While he will never be a dominant player in the league, he always seems to bridge the gaps that our team has from time to time. Whether it is playing the alley-oop game with Thompson, driving in for a floater, or playing suffocating, high energy defense, he has definitely made the most of the minutes he has received. Moving into the starting role at PG, so the team can prepare for the return of Kyrie, has given him even more confidence. Mo Williams: Williams has transitioned to coming off of the bench after being the starting point guard when the season began. This was orchestrated to prepare him for his bench role when Irving returns from his knee injury. He has been consistent offensively and remains one of our strongest jump shooters on the second team. Richard Jefferson: Jefferson has been a welcome addition to this team. He is averaging just under 23 minutes and seven points per game. He is an upgrade from the Mike Millers and Shawn Marions of last year. Jefferson has also outplayed the younger James Jones whom I have not been at all impressed with this season. Anderson Varajao: The “Wild Thing” has proven to be an asset within the minutes he is given. He continues to exhibit his strong work rate and while he is not as limber as he was 2 injuries ago, the occasional jump shot or tip in for the second team is a welcome contribution. Iman Shumpert: Shumpert only returned this past Saturday but immediately put up 14 points on 66% three point shooting and three rebounds. I am excited for, not only the offensive bump he will give us, but also his defense which will start to make other teams think twice about making lazy passes. Kyrie Irving: We have not seen Irving on the court since his knee cap injury in the Finals against Golden State. He has been participating in full practices, and it was rumored that he may even make his season debut in Saturday’s game, but it was not to be. He is the one game changing player that can push us to achieve the team’s highest potential. This Cavs fan is ready to experience Cleveland basketball at that level again!

Which Cavs Lineup is Best?

The Cavs have thrown out many different lineups this season with all of the injuries they have had, but which one has worked the best for the them so far?

They will be referred to as: Lineup A, Lineup B, Lineup C, Lineup D and Lineup E.

AP Photo/Ron Schwane
Mo Williams had a season-high 29 points against the Utah Jazz on Tuesday.

With a win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday night, the Cavs improve to 14-7 on the season. It was a gritty win that had the Cavs coming back from a large deficit in which they eventually overpowered the Trail Blazers.

The sleeved jerseys seemed to effect LeBron a lot less this time around as he had a team-high 33 points, including some crucial And-1 plays down the stretch. For the first time in a few games, the ball finally seemed to be moving again and it led to offensive efficiency.

Let us see how this lineups compare against each other

Offensive Rating – The number of points a team scores per 100 possessions.

Lineup A – 103.0
Lineup B – 128.4
Lineup C – 120.3
Lineup D – 93.6
Lineup E – 115.2

Defensive Rating – The number of points a team allows per 100 possessions.

Lineup A – 101.9
Lineup B – 94.4
Lineup C – 67.3
Lineup D – 127.1
Lineup E – 82.4

Net Rating – The difference between Offensive and Defensive Ratings.

Lineup A – 1.1
Lineup B – 33.9
Lineup C – 53.1
Lineup D – -36.6
Lineup E – 32.8

It is very clear that Lineup C has been the best lineup for the Cavs this season. Here are the actual lineups:

Lineup A – LeBron, Love, Mozgov, Smith, Williams
Lineup B – Delly, LeBron, Love, Thompson, Smith
Lineup C – Delly, LeBron, Love, Thompson, Williams
Lineup D – LeBron, Jefferson, Love, Mozgov, Williams
Lineup E – Delly, LeBron, Jefferson, Love, Thompson

There are some other stats that shows how well this lineup works together. Out of the five lineups, this is the best rebounding lineup. They out rebound the opposing team by a ratio of 2:1, including grabbing almost 45% of the offensive rebounds.

Everyone is fascinated with the pace at which the Golden State Warriors play at. When the Cavs are playing this lineup, they are playing just as fast as Golden State is. They average 1.5 less possessions than Golden State, an incredible pace. The Warriors may be good offensively, but they are poor defensively. The Cavs give up 17 less points per possession defensively than the Warriors.

When the Cavs are in this lineup, the opposing team is shooting only 34.3% and they also force their opponents to turn the ball over 20 times every 100 possessions. That is just INSANE.

Where does all of the credit go in this lineup? It is a complete team effort.

Delly has greatly improved his offense this season and continues to pester other players while on defense. LeBron is LeBron. He is the ultimate all-around player. Love has been more involved in the offense this season and the Cavs have benefited greatly from it.

One of the biggest reasons this lineup succeeds is Tristan. He is a monster on the glass and has the arm-length to effect shots at the rim. Mo has been a great welcome to the Cavs this season. The offense just seems to flow while he is in the game. Not only can he pass the ball well, but he can create his own shot.

It will be interesting to see how the lineups are when Kyrie and Shumpert return. When they return, be sure to check back here for a comparison on how the lineups perform. Maybe this lineup will continue to perform at a high level even after they return.

Can The Cavaliers Overcome Injuries Again?

If you have followed Cleveland sports for as long as I have, you know that feeling in the pit of your stomach when you see one of our star players writhing in pain on the court or field. Your first thought is “Oh God No! Not again!” No sports franchise is immune to injuries, but knowing that never seems to help.

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 10: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Kevin Love #0 of the Cleveland Cavaliers get set to check in to the game against the Utah Jazz on November 10, 2015 at Quicken Loans Arena. (Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH – NOVEMBER 10: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Kevin Love #0 of the Cleveland Cavaliers get set to check in to the game against the Utah Jazz on November 10, 2015 at Quicken Loans Arena. (Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)

I got that old fashioned feeling Tuesday night when Kevin Love landed wrong on his ankle. I stood up from my couch with my hands on my head verbally pleading for the sports gods to give us a pass. After all, Love has been the heart of our production this year with Lebron’s play being less relied upon and his minutes being managed.

I immediately was taken back to several similar instances from the past. Names like LeCharles Bentley come to mind. Bentley was a hometown boy who was a Pro Bowler in New Orleans and just wanted to come back to Cleveland and help the Browns be a contender. Sadly, his dreams were dashed in the most abrupt and immediate fashion I have ever heard of. Bentley sustained a career ending injury on literally the FIRST snap of TRAINING CAMP! “Only in Cleveland”, we said.

I also think of Brian Hoyer, who even though he is no longer here, was setting this town on fire with the chemistry he was showing with his receivers in the early part of the 2013 Browns season only to be felled by an ACL tear in his 3rd start.

The most relevant to the Cavs were the playoff injuries to both Love and Kyrie Irving. Love’s shoulder was severely damaged in the opening series against Boston by Kelly Olynyk, causing him to miss the rest of the playoffs.

Irving, the yin to Lebron’s yang all season, injured his knee in Game 1 of the Finals and had surgery to repair his kneecap. That injury will keep Kyrie off of the court until almost mid season of this campaign. There is no doubt that both of these injuries contributed to our eventual loss in the Finals to Golden State.

Most experts believe that if both Love and Irving were healthy, the Cavaliers could have triumphed over Steph Curry and company.

All of these thoughts went through my head when Love went down on Tuesday. I take some solace in the fact that our bench is much improved this year. If Love were to go down, I’m sure Tristan Thompson would be able to step in and fill his shoes. I feel as if Tristan’s offensive game is coming along but is, as it always has, lagging behind his defensive strengths.

Though Lebron had an amazing 4th quarter against Utah (17 points), the other 3 quarters were not played at his typical level. LBJ should not have to bear the burden of “saving” this team as he attempted to do in the Finals.

It seems to me that Coach David Blatt is managing the players minutes much more efficiently this season and the reason we are doing so well is that the team’s productivity doesn’t fall off much when the second unit is on the court. I believe that we could endure one or maybe two injuries to starters this season as a result. In the NBA, these things are often inevitable as the 82 game season, plus playoffs, last from late October until mid June sometimes. This is a long time to play such a physically grueling sport and managing players minutes is the best defense against not only injury but fatigue.

Even with all of that, I’m sure we will see one or more of our prominent players sidelined before the season is over. Selfishly, I don’t want it to happen this early in the season when the players are just starting to hit their stride and develop chemistry with their teammates.

Ultimately, Love had his ankle looked at and rejoined the game Tuesday continuing to play at the high level he had for the entire game. To me, this felt like a warning shot to all of the Cleveland fans about what could and likely will happen this season.

In the past, I have felt as if this team was a house of cards in the sense that any injury to a starter meant that we couldn’t win without them. So far I feel that this team is built with a strong enough foundation that even if we lose a big piece, we have the right players to fill it and continue on towards our ultimate goal of being known as the best team in basketball.

The Cavs Bench Is Vastly Improved

One of the biggest flaws in the Cleveland Cavaliers team that went to the NBA Finals last season was the poor bench play.

It was easy to see the bench was missing a legitimate scoring threat other than the streaky J.R. Smith. By the end of the Finals, both Matthew Dellavedova and Tristan Thompson were starting due to injuries to Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. Shawn Marion was a poor shooter and had little left in the tank. Mike Miller and James Jones could not hit a shot. It ultimately led to the demise of the Cavs against the Golden State Warriors.

This offseason, the Cavs reloaded their bench after trading away Miller and Marion deciding to retire. To fill those replacements, the Cavs signed Mo Williams and Richard Jefferson.

AP Photo/Ron Schwane
Mo Williams had a season-high 29 points against the Utah Jazz on Tuesday.

I was elated when the Cavs signed Williams for multiple reasons. First off, I know Mo wanted to win a championship here in Cleveland the first time he was here. It was why he was so hurt when LeBron James took his talents to South Beach. He wanted to win here.

The Cavs decided to trade Williams to start their rebuilding process after James had left. In that trade, the Cavs netted Baron Davis, whom they amnestied, and a first round pick in which the Cavs used to take Kyrie Irving.

Mo Williams had a season-high 29 points against the Utah Jazz on Tuesday. Mo wanted to win here in Cleveland and this past offseason he got another chance. He signed a two-year contract with the Cavs and is already paying dividends.

He has been starting in place of the player he was essentially traded for in the first place, Kyrie. When Kyrie does come back, Mo will move back to coming off the bench and that gets me excited.

Through the first eight games, the 32-year-old point guard is averaging 14.7 PPG and 5.4 APG. He has had three 20-point games, including 29 points against the Utah Jazz last night. He provides consistent outside shooting off the bench, something the Cavs really needed last season.

Richard JeffersonWhen Richard Jefferson joined this team, I am willing to bet that he did not expect to be contributing as much as he is now. He was forced into this roll with Iman Shumpert being hurt and he is excelling at his role.

Jefferson is in his 15th season in the NBA and is with his fifth team in the past five years.  He signed a one-year deal with the Cavs at the league minimum this offseason. In the preseason, you could already tell that Jefferson would turn out to be a better fit with this Cavs team than Marion.

Jefferson has been a starter for a couple games but mainly being the guy that gives LeBron the rest he needs and is producing in that spot. He is averaging just under 10 points per game this season and is also hitting the outside shot. He will absolutely be a key player off the bench this season for the Cavs and will be what Marion was supposed to be last season.

Tristan Thompson is being Tristan Thompson. He is giving this Cavs team a near double-double off the bench, which is insane. But for $82 million, he better be doing something extraordinary like that.

It has been great to see the return of Anderson Varejao. I just hope he can stay healthy through the 82-game schedule and a long post-season run. His minutes seem to be being managed very closely and that will be important in the long run to stay healthy for the entire season.

Will we see Sasha Kaun play much this season? I highly doubt it unless someone gets hurt.

To me the biggest surprise has been the improvement of Dellavedova. I no longer cringe every time I see Delly take a shot. He has worked on his game tremendously during the offseason. The biggest question with Delly is where does he fit in when Kyrie and Shumpert return from injuries?

It is a good problem to have when everyone does get healthy. Coach David Blatt will have to find a way to manage the five guard rotation of Irving, Williams, Delly, Smith and Shumpert.

Jared Cunningham has been a nice addition to the Cavs team early this season. However, he and Joe Harris will find themselves on the outside looking in when Kyrie and Shumpert return from injury.

The Cavs’ backcourt is easily the deepest in the entire NBA and the depth in the front court is solid. The Cavs bench has been greatly improved from last season to this season. Hopefully this year, it will turn into what Cleveland has been wanting since 1964, a championship.

Kevin Love emerging early in the season

It has only been two games, however you can see that this year’s Cleveland Cavaliers team will be better than last.

Gone are the likes of Mike Miller, Dion Waiters and Kendrick Perkins. It is unfortunate about Perkins because I was hoping he would be around for the first Boston Celtics game (Kelly Olynyk).

The team brought in Mo Williams, Richard Jefferson and Sasha Kaun. And to borrow one of the Indians favorite sayings, “The team got back a healthy Anderson Varejao which is like making a deal at the trade deadline without having to give anything up.”

Throughout the first two games, something is very clear. Until Kyrie Irving returns from injury (insert Indians quote again), Kevin Love is going to be the primary option offensively.

Kevin Love Shot ChartLove was two baskets per game last season from being a 20 point/10 rebound player like he was in Minnesota. He look out sorts offensively all of last season, never getting into the groove. It appears that the focus of the offseason and training camp was to figure out how to get Love the ball more.

Love has touched the ball more under the basket than he did last season through the first two games. But the biggest change as designated by the shot chart is that he is getting more touches on the elbow.

Getting more touches around the elbow is vital for the Cavs’ offensive success. He really stretches the floor for the Cavs offensively. Stretching the floor gives LeBron more room to drive to the basket and helps Tristan and Mozgov get more offensive rebounds.

Another big change for the Cavs this season is the play of the bench in the first two games. It is clear to see why the Cavs went out and got Williams. He can still contribute consistently at his age. When Irving comes back, Williams will really give the Cavs a scoring threat off the bench and will pair up with either Iman Shumpert or J.R. Smith.

Outlook

The Cavs take on the Miami Heat tonight at The Q for their home opener. The place is going to be electric. The Heat seem to be the media darling to dethrone the Cavs in the Eastern Conference. I’m sorry. That is just not going to happen.

We all know that Dwayne Wade is not going to stay healthy the whole season and Heat will go as far as Wade goes. They do have a formidable front court now with the return of Chris Bosh and the surprising emergence of Hassan Whiteside last season.

I expect the Cavs to go small tonight and put LeBron on Bosh for the game. It depends on if the Heat pair Bosh with a center or he plays that position tonight. If they do go with Bosh at center, I would expect the Cavs to counter with Mo, Delly, Smith, Thompson/Love and LeBron. I am looking forward to seeing Delly pester Wade all night.

After having back-to-back games on the road to start the season, the Cavs have the next five of six at home against Miami, New York, Philadelphia, Indiana and Utah. The schedule gives the Cavs an opportunity to get off to a fast start.

Quick thoughts:

  1. Kaun really takes up some space, and that is a good thing.
  2. Matthew Dellavedova looks like an improved player offensively.
  3. Where in the heck did Jared Cunningham come from? Oh, the Cavs actually drafted and traded him. It appears he can contribute this season.
  4. I am comfortable with James Jones never taking another 3 this season.

The 2015-16 Cavaliers Season is Here. Let That Sink In.

It only seems like yesterday that the Cleveland Cavaliers, short two of its superstars, were on the cusp of taking the NBA championship. Of course, the deplete roster resulted in the Cavs running out of gas and the Golden State Warriors pulled ahead to take the Finals in six games.

It also only seemed like yesterday that nobody (or, at least, national pundits) could decide where Kevin Love would eventually end up. That was, as the punditry put it, Love was clearly unhappy with his role in Cleveland and yearned for the warm sun of, well, anywhere else.

But that was all before the now-famous pool pow-wow between Love and LeBron James. Not much has been said about it lately. However, there’s no denying that Love, who was felled by a shoulder injury at the hands of Celtics villain Kelly Olynyk, had re-signed long-term with the Cavs.

And naturally, no alleged Cavaliers off-season drama can be complete without a little bit of anxiety about James himself. Despite the complete non-surprise of him opting out of his contract, that didn’t stop the whispers about his lingering unhappiness. And those were squashed when he re-signed once again.

Yes, James’ contract does allow him to opt out again at the end of the 2015-16 season. That said, remember the salary cap is about to take a huge jump when the new television contract kicks in. When that happens, expect James to cash in big-time.

Oddly enough, the contract woes came from Tristan Thompson, who evidently thought there was a better deal out there for him after declining an initial five-year, $80 million deal from the team. And yet, that better deal never really materialized, and he re-signed with the Cavs once again.

And if it seems like it was only yesterday that this happened, well, it kind of was. The Cavaliers only announced Thompson’s re-signing last Thursday.

With a ton of money invested in this team, you’d think that the so-called experts would belay the notion that the Cavs would be in a much better position than they were last season. After all, Love is back in the mix, as is Anderson Varejao. Plus, Mo Williams has returned to give the team more depth at guard, and Richard Jefferson essentially replaces Mike Miller and Kendrick Perkins as Resident Old Guy, though with a little more in the tank.

Even with all of that, there’s still the obligatory hand-wringing. Kyrie Irving will be out until at least January because of his knee. And Iman Shumpert will also be laid up for a couple of months due to his own injury.

Throw in a woeful pre-season and the shot James received for his back, and you can see why there might be a full-on freakout to start the season. Business Insider even went so far as to call this team, in its current state, a mess.

But really, when you look at the landscape of the Eastern Conference, is there really anybody that got better? The Cavs remain the favorite to take the conference crown once again and make it to the NBA Finals, no matter what narrative anyone tries to throw out there.

The beginning for the Cavaliers is not as important as the end, as they clearly proved last season. No bowling trip should be necessary this time around for head coach David Blatt. There’s a good chance that this team will be in a better position with the return of Irving and Shumpert to the lineup.

From there, it will only be a matter of staying health throughout the playoffs. After all, James was left without both of his superstar teammates by the end of the Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

The goal will not be to linger on what could have been if everyone had been on the floor for the Finals last season. It will be to have everybody ready to play for this season’s Finals.

In that event, this may, indeed, finally be the year that Cleveland gets its championship.