After a small mini crisis (everything is made into much more than it is when LeBron James is involved), it seems that playing vastly inferior teams they simply couldn’t lose to brings the Cleveland Cavaliers back to the place they feel very comfortable in.
Their 104-79 win over the Orlando Magic was their third in a row, following two more difficult road wins on their 2-2 Western tour over the Phoenix Suns and Denver Nuggets. It’s been quite easy for the Cavaliers against the Magic this season, holding them to just 155 points in their last two games, both blow outs that carry on the team’s tradition of beating up on the Magic, who are having their best season since Dwight Howard burned every possible bridge and left.
This wasn’t a game in which the Cavaliers needed some spark off the bench or some special intervention from a less expected direction. This was LeBron James scoring 29 points on 11-of-18 from the field, doing it all in 29 minutes. He hit four 3-pointers, played great, energized, focused defense, and simply looked at ease with the world and especially his opponents. The Cavaliers were +28 when James was playing, and teaming him up with Iman Shumpert on the floor, at least in recent games, creates some excellent defensive possessions, and is probably a key thing for David Blatt as we move forward with this season.
Two players who didn’t really shine were Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. It’s been up & down for Irving since his return. Not just getting his shot and legs back to where they’re supposed to be, but his entire rhythm and decision making are inconsistent, as expected from someone who has been out for such a long time. He probably tries a little bit too much sometimes, but there doesn’t seem to be something wrong with him physically, which means it’s mostly rust, which can’t stop talent from breaking through eventually.
Love is worth watching through the Irving return. He scored 10 points to go with 13 rebounds. Last season Love struggled with the third option on offense change, and seemed more at ease with more touches this season. Now it’s back to an offense that possibly keeps him as the third option on most nights. Love knew this was going to be the situation when he signed on a five-year deal this offseason, but that doesn’t mean he, like someone coming back from injury, doesn’t need time adjusting.
While the Eastern conference eats itself alive, the Cavaliers, while not smoothly as the Spurs and Warriors, are distancing themselves away from battles over positioning, slowly creating a more and more unbridgeable gap between them and the rest. While this team is probably going to have some more of these small questionable moments of losing and looking bad, the return of Irving and maybe even more important Shumpert, without other injuries getting added to the pile, should eventually calm the waters and put this ship on the course towards another NBA finals.