An ugly start didn’t stop the Cleveland Cavaliers from providing some excellent basketball in a 117-92 win over the Brooklyn Nets, getting Kevin Love back from his back injuries and LeBron James in less than sizzling form, which didn’t seem to slow the team down.
Because the Cavaliers don’t depend on James scoring. They’re at their best when he’s more committed to moving the ball, finding open players and working to get players open than going to the basket on his own. James scored 16 points, the fewest since November 22, and since January 1 they are 7-1 in games James has scored 20 points or less, something that meant doom for them earlier this season.
Kevin Love scored 10 points following his return from back injuries and also grabbed 11 rebounds. One of his assists was to LeBron James on the best play of the game following a J.R. Smith block. Smith and Timofey Mozgov led the scoring with 17 points, while Kyrie Irving finished with a double double as well of 12 points and 11 assists. The Cavaliers had plenty of garbage time to party through despite David Blatt getting so angry in the first quarter.
The first game after a road trip is always kind of tough. We just found our rhythm. We moved the ball tonight. Mozzy was unbelievable in the paint. Kyrie was great getting guys involved and J.R. was shooting the ball well. Everyone worked well together tonight.
Lionel Hollins, watching his team’s chances of making the playoffs slowly disappear, blamed his players’ inability to stop and react to LeBron James working in the post. The Nets don’t have anyone to defend the paint in more than just putting his body. That’s the price of trading away Kevin Garnett, who wasn’t going to be a lot of help anyway being a guy who can barely play more than 20 minutes a night.
This was the kind of game that makes the Cavaliers look like a very good pick for best in the East, especially while the Hawks get destroyed by the Warriors on the other side of the country. The Nets are nothing like anyone the Cavaliers are going to meet in the playoffs. They’ve fallen behind quite far behind the Hornets, Celtics, Heat and Pacers that it’s safe to say they aren’t going to make the postseason.
And the Cavs? It’s not about catching up with the Hawks, but about securing the second place in the conference. It’s about letting Kevin Love find his rhythm in what remains of this season and become a more integral part of this offense, even when Blatt takes him out in crunch time, or simply prove to his head coach his worth keeping during clutch moments. The Cavaliers have made long strides in becoming a team this season, but they’re still a work in progress, trying to live up to the almost impossible expectations from the beginning of the season.