The winning streak continues for the Cleveland Cavaliers, beating the Detroit Pistons 103-95 to make it seven in a row with LeBron James once again putting on an MVP-like performance although for once, he actually was a step behind the brilliance of Kyrie Irving.
The impact of a player is best felt during absences and when he comes back from them. James and the Cavs did lose the first game after his return from a short break, but have won their last seven games. In their last five, they haven’t allowed any team to reach 100 points while scoring 103 or more on all five occasions. With a healthy James, they’re simply that good, and it also tells another angle of the story of just how good James still is.
David Blatt, apparently happy with James at the moment (things didn’t seem to be that way a month ago) and James happy with him, is now doing what a lot of other coaches do – politicking in favor of their players through the media. While most of this season so far has been a discussion about Stephen Curry, James Harden and maybe Anthony Davis for MVP, James’ form over the last eight games puts him right up there with the rest of the candidates, and possibly already a step or two ahead of them.
There’s also Blatt rallying for Kyrie Irving to make the All-Star game. Irving wasn’t voted into the lineup (Kyle Lowry and John Wall were for the East at the guard positions). Despite taking a step backwards in terms of on-ball dominance because of James he’s still averaging 21.3 points per game and has been fantastic over the last seven, averaging 24.6 points in the winning streak while shooting 54.6% from the field. Just like the rest of the team, he’s turned a corner for the better.
There’s also the defense to mention. Maybe it’s above everything else, although it’s hard to argue with the team looking so smooth at times on offense. Smooth means there are no long stretches of no one being quite sure of what to do. Sure, James scores a lot of his points by taking the ball at the top of the arc or the key and everyone moving away to let him do his thing, but that worked well when the Heat won two championships. As long as everyone is on the same page, there shouldn’t be too many problems.
The Cavaliers held the Pistons to only 42.2% from the field, a fifth straight game of limiting their opponent to under 43%. The presence of Timofey Mozgov makes it a lot easier to defend the paint, even when James and others have lazy or focus lapses. The Cavs are still one of the worst in the league when it comes to defensive field goal percentage, allowing over 46%. The difference between their current form and their previous one comes to six-to-ten points per 100 possessions, which is often the difference between winning or losing.
Irving led the team’s scoring with 38 points, matching his season high. James wasn’t far behind, scoring 32 points. He just won the league’s player of the week award (East) and well on pace to the best this month, averaging 30.5 points per game with 6.8 rebounds, 6.4 assists and shooting over 50% from the field, while also improving his defense with two per game. Playing this way and elevating everyone around him directly and indirectly, the Cavaliers look once more like a team to take very seriously in the East and when discussing championship contenders.