The 2015-2016 version of the Cleveland Cavaliers includes a Kevin Love that might be coming off surgery but knows a lot more about how to flourish in this system, and a LeBron James that might be getting older, but has no problem deferring to the players he usually carries.
Playing without Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert until at least December, the Cavaliers don’t seem too bothered. Their 102-92 win over the Miami Heat was a nice way open their “home season” and proof that even without an All-Star point guard and an excellent 3 & D player, this team has plenty besides James.
It also helps that James had his first efficient shooting night of the season. While Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and even Carmelo Anthony have been getting it on with some huge scoring nights, James is taking it a bit slower as he eases on into the season. He scored 29 points with 13-of-19 from the field while Kevin Love helped out scoring 24 while grabbing 14 boards.
Love might be the big difference. Not that his numbers were so awful last year, but it did strike him a bit difficult being the third option on offense, often relegated to a guy waiting on the corner for someone to spot him wide open. His shooting rhythm was off. The rumors about him and James not getting along probably didn’t help. And yet here he is, with a contract for five seasons, realizing his best shot at winning a championship right now is with David Blatt and James.
The Cavaliers simply have a deep team. Their frontcourt, now that Tristan Thompson is playing again, is loaded. This might not be a classic small ball team, the trendy thing to do these days, but with Timofey Mozgov and Love in the lineup and Thompson with Anderson Varejao coming off the bench, the Cavs do seem quite complete, even if it’s costing them an almost record breaking luxury tax figure, something that’ll slightly balanced once this season ends thanks to the big surge in the salary cap.
Being 3-0 means nothing, but the Cavaliers might be one Pau Gasol block on James from being there. Not a loss to really worry about for more than five minutes. Heading into such a long season (and with every injury we’ll hear more and more about why the NBA season should be slightly shortened) with Kevin Love playing in a much more confident and overall better way is the best method of overcoming an NBA Finals loss and missing your All-Star point guard.
The big test, obviously, will be in the playoffs. Can the Cavaliers stay healthy? What’s going on between James and David Blatt? Is LeBron going to try once more to win an NBA Finals series (if the Cavaliers even get there) on his own, and running out of steam while no one around him steps up to pick up the torch? The regular season will offer glimpses of answers to that question, but we won’t know for sure until April, May and June.