While the common perception of the Cleveland Cavaliers is of a very good team that just isn’t going to be good enough to win the NBA championship unless one major upset happens in the Western conference, some of their performances this season, with LeBron James at the helm and those around him doing just about enough of the right thing, makes it seem like maybe they should be taken more seriously.
The Cavaliers beat up the Los Angeles Clippers 114-90 in Los Angeles, as a preview to another East beats West game, the New York Knicks & Los Angeles Lakers, although a lot more meaningful, and a lot less dramatic. The Cavaliers took off for a 37-22 second quarter and had 70 points in the second and third quarters combined while holding the Clippers to just 49. The Cavaliers led by as much as 25 points at one point, doing their best when Wesley Johnson, Austin Rivers and Jamal Crawford were trying to rectify things.
James led the Cavaliers with 27 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists. He had Kyrie Irving and J.R. Smith both help him out with 17 points each (Smith had 11 in a row at one point of the third quarter), 15 from Channing Frye who is sometimes easy to forget even plays on the Cavaliers and 10 from Tristan Thompson. Not for the first time, the Cavaliers were at their best when Iman Shumpert, Thompson and Matthew Dellavedova were on the floor.
While the Cavaliers have neglected the idea of small ball or some version of it in their starting lineup with both Kevin Love (12 points in 25 minutes) and Timofey Mozgov starting (2 points in 14 minutes), they’re at their best in less traditional settings. Love had a +1 during his time on the floor. Mozgov was at -12. Obviously, the Cavs finding a way to put up big points had a lot to do with a bad day by the Clippers, but it came from very good defense and excellent ball movement on offense by the Cavaliers, which hasn’t always been there since Tyronn Lue got the head coaching job. He now has the same record David Blatt had through his first 24 games with the team (17-7).
The Cavaliers hit 18 three pointers, and more than small ball and specific lineups, it seems that the mood of James and his mindset determines how jittery or calm the Cavaliers are. When he seems to trust his teammates to make plays and make shots, he’s at his best. Suddenly his game intelligence is at its peak, and his ability to make those passes only he can comes to life. In the 2015 NBA finals James trusted no one, and maybe for a bit of good reason. This year, he knows it and everybody else knows it: Without deferring to Irving and the rest and not trying to take over for the sake of his ego, the Cavaliers don’t stand a chance of winning the title.