Coming off a short rest due to a minor sprain, LeBron James didn’t try and do too much in a 101-90 win for the Cleveland Cavaliers, instead leaving enough room for Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving to express themselves, which means scoring a lot of points.
The Cavaliers did well enough through the first three quarters that they could lose by 10 points in the fourth and still win comfortably. James scored 19 points to go with 7 assists and 4 steals, while on the other end the stars struggled. Rudy Gay scored 20 points on 6-of-16 from the field while DeMarcus Cousins who’ll be in the All-Star game instead of the injured Kobe Bryant finished with 21 points on just 5-of-17 from the field.
Kevin Love has been having his ups and downs this season when it comes to shooting, but he was quite sharp in this victory, scoring 23 points on 9-of-17 from the field, adding 10 rebounds, making it his 11th game this season with a 20-10 in points and boards, something he did more than 60% of the time last season with the Timberwolves. Different roles, different results, but Love is going to play in the playoffs for the first time every in a few months.
Kyrie Irving scored 21 points on 8-of-13 from the field with 6 assists, not having too much of a drop off from his 55-point game or letting it go to his head. J.R. Smith played more minutes than anyone (37) and scored 16 points, continuing his more responsible playing style. With all those points and talented scorers, Mozgov is mostly responsible for making life difficult for opponents in the paint. He finished with 3 blocks, and has been playing a big part in the Cavaliers winning nine games in a row.
Things were going so well that James had time to flirt with the crowd, like giving one lady a kiss on the hand in a very chivalrous manner. When the wins come at such a pleasing rate and suddenly the Cavaliers aren’t that far off from where they were expected to be, players feel a lot easier with letting themselves loose with the fans and act a lot more carefree. The difference a few wins make is astonishing.
The Cavaliers are actually making a little bit of NBA history at the moment, surprising as it might be for a team that’s only 28-20. After a six game losing streak, five of those games coming with LeBron James out of action, they’ve gone on to win nine straight. That is the longest winning streak for a team coming right off a six (or more) game losing streak. That’s the kind of difference one player makes, but it also has to do with the players suddenly buying in to their designated roles.
Except for the Atlanta Hawks, no teams in the NBA is hotter or better than the Cavaliers right now. After all we saw from them in the early goings of the season, it’s slightly surprising to see them doing this well for this long. Teams that do so well are often the most fun to watch, especially with the kind of talent the Cavs have in Irving, James and Love.