Now Is Blatt’s Time to Show His Stuff

The Cleveland Cavaliers ended their regular season last night and it truly was a tale of two halves of the season.

As everyone is aware, the Cavs struggled to get going.  LeBron James was banged up and needed to rest his body, while the team got off to a 19-20 start.

When James returned, GM David Griffin sprung into action, revamping the roster with two major trades, and the wine and gold closed out the second half with a 34-9 record.

David Blatt has had his share of critics, both from the national media (who love to pick the Cavaliers apart), and also from the local media, who don’t seem to care for his arrogance, something you probably have to have if you are going to coach elite players.

But Blatt should get enormous credit for fitting in the new pieces, Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith, and Iman Shumpert, seamlessly.  Many times, basketball teams make personnel moves and it takes time for the pieces to fit together and play well together.

Just think back to when the Cavs made a mega-move at the trading deadline in 2008, bringing in Ben Wallace, Delonte West, Joe Smith, and Wally Szczerbiak.

The Cavs were 30-24 at the time of the deal, and finished the season with a 45-37 record.  They were basically a .500 team after the deal, and lost in the second round of the playoffs to Boston.

This Cleveland team hit the ground running after the deal, which is a credit to the head coach, the GM, who found the perfect pieces to fit this squad, and the players who made their new teammates feel at home.

Most felt the key to the moves was Shumpert, an active wing defender the Cavs desperately needed.  But he was still hurt when he arrived here, which allowed Blatt to use Smith in the starting lineup.

The much maligned Smith fit like a glove, providing instant offense, knocking down open three after open three, playing off James and Kyrie Irving perfectly.

And Smith was active on the defensive end too, which allowed Blatt to give him more freedom on offense.

No one could have seen the huge impact Smith made on this team, and when Shumpert was healthy, Blatt kept things exactly how they were, and Shumpert came off the bench, where he has been very valuable to the Cavaliers.

However, playoff time is where Blatt will make his bones.  And it starts right away, as he is matched up against one of the sports’ up and coming coaches in Boston’s Brad Stevens.

The Cavs have a decided talent advantage in the first round, but what we are looking for is how Blatt reacts and counters what other teams are going to do to keep the wine and gold at bay.

This isn’t to say Blatt isn’t capable of doing just that.  He’s had success overseas in tournament play, but we are looking forward to seeing how he manages the playoff situation.

And it becomes more of a factor as the playoffs go on.  Remember that Mike Brown could never figure out what Orlando was doing in the Eastern Conference finals in 2008-09.  He never tried anything different or couldn’t come up with a counter.

Playing the same team a possible seven straight times brings the ability to scheme and coach into the forefront.  David Blatt’s time to shine is right now.  The playoffs start Sunday afternoon.

JK

Forget the Uniform Frenzy, The Browns Are Improving Under the Radar

Tonight’s the night!

Unfortunately, a lot of attention will be given to the Cleveland Browns unveiling their new uniform scheme this evening.

We guess it will be interesting to see what the powers that be came up with, but in reality, they could wear Lady Gaga’s famous meat dress if they went to the Super Bowl.

We understand that a great deal of sports talk conversation on Wednesday will involve the analysis of clothing, not the Cavaliers’ impending playoff series or the Indians start to their season.

It’s Browns’ Town.  We get it. However, if you want to talk about the Cleveland Browns, why not focus on the improvements the team has made this off-season. We understand this doesn’t fit in with the “Browns are dysfunctional” narrative that both the national and local media have portrayed, but there is no question here that GM Ray Farmer is addressing the team’s needs and remember, he has 11 draft picks coming from April 30th-May 2nd.

We’ve heard about the lack of quality wide receivers for more than a year, and since the season ended, Farmer signed veteran wide outs Dwayne Bowe and Brian Hartline. And we feel another young pass catcher will be added in the first few rounds in the draft.

There is no question the Mike Pettine’s team had a hard time stopping the run in 2014, and they lost veteran Ahtyba Rubin to free agency.  Rubin was replaced by Randy Starks, a two-time Pro Bowl player. Yes, Starks is three years older than the man he replaced, but again, many draft experts have the Browns taking another defensive lineman in either the first or second round of the draft. So, they are upgrading for not only next year, but for the future.

They lost CB Buster Skrine in free agency, and replaced him in the short-term with former Green Bay starter Tramon Williams.  Ultimately, one of last year’s draft choices, Justin Gilbert or Pierre Desir, will replace Skrine.

Their other major loss was TE Jordan Cameron, and Farmer addressed this by signing Rob Housler last week.  Housler is five months older than the man he replaces, and actually has more seasons with more than 30 catches. Outside of Cameron’s Pro Bowl season in 2013 when he caught 80 passes, his next best year was 24 catches in 2014. Housler caught 45 passes in ’12 and 39 in 2013.  And he doesn’t have the concussion issues that have plagued Cameron.

Of course, the one position everyone focuses on is quarterback, and that’s why any optimism is muted.

We have said this before, but when they Browns have just decent quarterback play, they can win.

A passer rating of 80 is below average in today’s NFL.  In fact, it would rank 27th last season, so it is barely passable.

Last year, when the Browns QB had a rating of over 80, the team went 6-3.  When it was below that mark, they were 1-6.

So, if the Browns get competent play at the position, they have a pretty good record.

While it would be nice to have Andrew Luck or even Joe Flacco, what the Browns really need is someone to not be terrible.  That’s the low bar set for Josh McCown and/or Johnny Manziel.

And that’s how Farmer and Pettine have built this team, to find ways to win without having a great quarterback.  That’s not to say they don’t want one, but you can’t just lose because you don’t have one.

Pettine’s offense centers around a strong running game and a QB that doesn’t make mistakes until he gets THE GUY.

Still, seeing what the Browns do in the draft is more important than the new uniforms.  Unfortunately, that will be all the talk tomorrow.

JD

Tribe Roster in Flux Already, No Need to Panic

The major league baseball season is a week old, and already the roster of the Cleveland Indians is in flux.

Even though the Tribe were swept in their first home series of the year by the Detroit Tigers, the biggest loss was that of Yan Gomes, who suffered sprained knee ligaments in a home plate collision on Saturday and will be out 6-8 weeks.

GM Chris Antonetti was forced to do some roster shuffling because of Gomes’ injury, as well as a back problem for Michael Brantley that has kept him out of the lineup for all but two games.

If he isn’t ready to play Tuesday night against Chicago, after three days off, he may join Gomes on the DL.

Brantley’s problem along with other teams throwing southpaws at the Tribe, forced the team to bring up OF/1B Jerry Sands, a right-handed bat to help in this regard.

Then after the home opener and Saturday’s debacle for the relief corps, Antonetti and skipper Terry Francona were forced to bring back Austin Adams, set back to active Sands, and also to bring up Shawn Marcum to provide innings in case T.J. House couldn’t provide innings on Sunday, which he couldn’t.

It just goes to show that major league teams really don’t have a 25 man roster, it is more like 30 guys, with all of the player movement between the big club and their AAA affiliate.

However, it’s still way to early to panic and worry, after there are still 156 games remaining.

This series against the Tigers reminded us of a weekend at home against Oakland last May, when the Tribe lost three games by scores of 11-2, 6-2, and 13-3.  Everything the A’s hit that weekend either hit a hole or sailed over a fence, much like the Tigers this weekend.

How did the Indians respond last year? They won 5 of their next 6, including a three game sweep of?  You guessed it, the Detroit Tigers.

And as for folks saying this year is the same as last, and Cleveland can’t beat the Motor City Kitties, let us remind you that the Tribe beat the Tigers in four of the first five games they played a year ago, and wound up the season at 8-11 against them.

Again, there is a long, long way to go.

Detroit is hitting .364 as a team, and we are fairly confident that won’t continue for the balance of the year.  Also, if you want to have success against them, you have to get their first two hitter and the bottom of their order out.

Right now, Anthony Gose has a .450 OBP, Ian Kinsler’s is .480, and Jose Iglesias’ is .625.  Lifetime, their figures are .306 (Gose), .344 (Kinsler), and .335 (Iglesias).

To summarize…the Tigers are red-hot and the Indians caught them at the right time.

Also, the Tigers only saw one of the Indians’ top three pitchers, Corey Kluber, and Saturday’s game featured a meltdown by the bullpen, which isn’t normal for Francona’s team.

Many baseball people say you can’t judge a team until the 40 game mark, but we disagree slightly, saying that at the 1/6th point of the season, 27 games, you can start to get a feel for what is going on.

So, relax.  This week the Indians have two with the White Sox and three in Minnesota with the Twins.

Just think, a week from now, the optimism felt by everyone going into the season could very well be back.

MW

Cavs’ Division Title a Symbol of How Far They Have Come

The Cleveland Cavaliers are the Central Division champions.

In the NBA, it isn’t a big deal to win your division title, it really just guarantees you home court advantage in your first round playoff match up.  And remember, in pro basketball, more than half the teams qualify for the post-season.

In baseball and football, winning the division makes you stand out more, as less than 40% of the team make the playoffs.

That’s why the Cavs really didn’t celebrate clinching the division, it’s just a step toward their ultimate goal, which is the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

Still, it is a symbol of how far the franchise has come not only from last season, when they won 33 games, but also from earlier this season, when they were once 19-20.

Since then, catapulted by a win over the hapless Lakers, the wine and gold have ripped off 32 victories against just seven defeats.  Had they played the entire season at such a pace, they would be rivaling Golden State for the league’s best record.

For Kyrie Irving, who is blossoming into one of the league’s best players before our very eyes, and Tristan Thompson, who spent the first three years of their NBA careers struggling to attain wins, it has to be very satisfying indeed.

Just think of the switch for them, from coming to the arena every night hoping for a win to now expecting a victory.

For Kevin Love, one of the league’s top players but stuck on bad teams, winning the Central is proof that making the sacrifices he had to make by playing with LeBron James and Irving made it all worthwhile.

We think about how lucky J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert have to feel.  They started the year with high hopes, especially after beating Cleveland on opening night, but quickly the Knicks’ season feel into a deep abyss, perhaps the NBA’s worst team.

They both have to think they hit the lottery with both contributing to a team that has a chance to win a world championship.

Timofey Mosgov has to have the same feeling, coming from a team that will lose 50 games this year to another that has won 50.  And he is the nightly recipient of lob passes from the league’s best players, and has the most alley-oop dunks since putting on a Cavs uniform.

James Jones has to look at the season as a rejuvenation of his career, playing more minutes than he has since the 2011-12 season.  He produced when given a chance and became a guy who earned the trust of David Blatt.

As for Blatt, a man who was said to be clinging to his job when the Cavaliers dipped below the .500 mark, it is vindication.  If nothing else, he should get credit for putting his new pieces of the puzzle together quickly.  There wasn’t much of an adjustment period at all.

And for James, it is the first step in delivering what he said he wanted to do when he returning to Northeast Ohio.  He wanted to bring a title to the seemingly sports cursed area.

He changed the culture of the locker room and prodded, pleaded, and taught Irving how to play winning basketball, not just put up numbers.  There is no question that the strides made by Irving this season could not have come without the influence of the man who is still the best player on the planet.

So, although it is a small step, the organization should take pride in its accomplishment.  After a struggle early on, the Cavaliers go into the playoffs as one of the hottest teams in the NBA.

It was a long bumpy ride to get to this point.

Does Media Set The Bar Low For Tribe Ownership?

Over the weekend, the Cleveland Indians made some news off the field.

They announced that they signed 2014 Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber to a five-year contract with two more season at the Tribe’s option, meaning Kluber could remain in a Cleveland uniform for seven more years.

Later that day, they inked Carlos Carrasco to a four-year deal, an additional three years following this season, totaling a reported $22 million.

Although we advised the team to be careful with the Kluber extension, it’s a good deal for the team because it was done at reasonable dollars and at no time does the contract become untradeable, meaning if either pitcher’s performance drops or they are deemed replaceable, the Tribe isn’t stuck with the player.

As a comparison, there is no way GM Chris Antonetti could move either Nick Swisher or Michael Bourn right now.

No naturally, social media was filled with the usual suspects praising the Tribe ownership and denouncing people who call the Dolan family cheap.

There comments were “see, the Dolans do spend money!”

Really?  This is the low bar we set for the Indians organization?

The front office simply did what most major league teams do, that is, they kept young players who are productive and bought some years of arbitration and a year or two of free agency.

Other teams do that all the time.

Look, this really isn’t a hammering of the Dolans, although we have been critical in the past.  However, praising them for locking up a player who couldn’t leave for several years (in the case of Kluber) isn’t exactly an earth-shaking decision.

And they did it at money that will likely keep the club’s payroll at the organization’s comfort level.  It was really a no-brainer decision for the team.  Should they be praised for that?

Besides, our problem with the Indians’ ownership and front office is their willingness, or rather, their unwillingness to go the extra mile.

With their club in contention for a playoff spot in each of the last two years, the biggest acquisition they made was trading for left-handed relief pitcher Mark Rzepczynski.

Last year, they actually traded away two veteran players in Asdrubal Cabrera and Justin Masterson getting prospects in return.  Basically, they subtracted instead of added to the roster.

In 2011, Antonetti did make a big move, trading for Ubaldo Jimenez for at the time, two top pitching prospects.  The move didn’t work that year, although Jimenez was a big factor in claiming a wild card spot in ’13.

We have said this before, franchises have to take a shot at making the playoffs when they get the opportunity, particularly in baseball, because once you get there, you have as good a shot as any other team.

Look at the Royals a year ago.  They made the playoffs in the wild card game and advanced all the way to the seventh game of the World Series.

If the Indians have a chance when the trading deadline comes this July, and they add to the roster for the last two months, then the ownership should get credit and will get credit here.

Until then, let’s not go overboard praising the Indians for signing good players that they developed.  That’s something they should be doing all the time.

KM

Prediction: Tribe to Win AL Central

Over the past month, the Cleveland Indians seem to have become the darlings of the national media.

In the winter, the baseball people were talking about the San Diego Padres and Washington Nationals because they either reshaped their entire rosters or made a huge splash in free agency.

Meanwhile, GM Chris Antonetti made only two moves of real consequence, trading for slugger Brandon Moss from Oakland, and signing RHP Gavin Floyd, who is likely out for the year, as a free agent.

But now the Indians are gathering a lot of attention throughout the nation and we happen to agree, the Tribe will win the AL Central Division title in 2015.

First, we came to this conclusion a few months ago, so we aren’t jumping on the bandwagon, and second, if you read this blog or can look up the archives, we don’t pick the Indians to win every year.

Quite frankly, Cleveland is the best balance club in the division.

The Tigers can hit, but their starting pitching took a hit with the loss of Max Scherzer and the decline/injury to Justin Verlander.  And their bullpen is still a mess.

The White Sox are a popular pick to make the playoffs with a very productive off-season, but the Pale Hose weren’t in the top half of the league in hitting or pitching last season, so they have a lot of ground to make up.

The Royals are the defending American League champions, but the loss of James Shields, and the fact they overachieved to get into the post-season is something that will correct itself in 2015.

Meanwhile, the Indians should get a better season from at least one of these three players:  Jason Kipnis (most likely), Nick Swisher (possible), or Michael Bourn (least likely despite a good spring).  That, along with adding a guy who can hit 25-30 HR in Moss, should help an offense that sputtered at times in ’14.

And the defense will be better with Jose Ramirez starting the season at shortstop, and don’t forget we will likely see rookie Francisco Lindor, who impressed everyone in Goodyear, at some point in the campaign.

Pitching, we know that the Indians will have a solid bullpen with all of the power arms that Terry Francona has at his disposal, with the late innings handled by Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, and Scott Atchison, and others who can matchup after the game reaches the 7th inning.

The rotation did take a hit with the loss of Floyd and Danny Salazar’s poor spring, but they still have the AL Cy Young Award winner in Corey Kluber, an emerging Carlos Carrasco, who seems to have figured it out, and our candidate for a break through season in Trevor Bauer.

Most forget that for the first four months of the 2014 season, Bauer was the second most consistent hurler the Indians had.  He is just 24, and last year allowed fewer hits than innings pitched and struck out twice as many as he walked.  That’s a good pitcher.

The team needs Zach McAllister and T. J. House to be solid at the back-end of the rotation, and at least keep the games close until Francona can ride his relief corps.

Lastly, a big edge for the Indians is that they have Francona and pitching coach Mickey Callaway.  Tito has proven to be one of the game’s top pilots and although we disagree with him on some details, we believe he can and does get the most out of his roster.

The Indians have been close to the division title the last two seasons, making the wild card game in 2013 and avoiding elimination until the 159th game last season.

This season, they will kick down the door and a divisional series will return to Progressive Field.

MW

Allaying The Fears of Cavs’ Fans

We have said this for the better part of month, but even when a Cleveland sports team is successful, fans here still have to worry about something.

So, even though the Cleveland Cavaliers have won 27 of their last 36 games, there is still apprehension.

And of course, the national media doesn’t help the situation.

The latest is the claim that LeBron James is calling the ways and David Blatt simply repeats what James has called, basically saying that the head coach is the puppet of the star player.

The worry is how will that impact the team during the playoffs.

If that doesn’t cause enough angst, then fans are worried about how the wine and gold will match up with in the first round of the playoffs, praying that it isn’t LeBron’s old team, the Miami Heat.

First, the Cavs can knock Miami into the eighth seed with a victory tonight, and secondly, in the two losses to Miami this season, one came on Christmas Day on the road, and the other came after the end of a four game trip in which the Cavaliers won the first three games, two of them vs. Dallas and San Antonio.

And the Heat were rested coming into the contest.

While Miami has several players who have been part of four consecutive trips to The Finals, and therefore would present more of a challenge than a young team making the post season for the first time, it is doubtful the Cavaliers will be extended to a seven game series against Dwyane Wade’s squad.

So, it is very likely the Cavs could open up against the Nets or Celtics in the first round.

The other issue that is driving us crazy is the rest issue.  It was funny to hear Wally Szczerbiak, who was on the 2008-09 Cavaliers point to the week off between the second round sweep and the conference finals as a key reason for the loss to Orlando.

This points to what we have said all along, too much rest doesn’t help the players.

The Cavs last played on Sunday, so in the next ten days the wine and gold will play a grand total of three games.  Blatt gave the team off on Monday and Tuesday of this week, so they will be well rested tonight, and then have two more days off before their next game on Sunday.

And Blatt can give James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and others all of the contests the last week of the season (they play three games from April 12th-15th), giving everybody sufficient rest heading into the playoffs.  They will have the #2 seed clinched by then, so those games will be meaningless.

So, expect to see a lot of Joe Harris, Mike Miller, Brendan Haywood, etc. in those games.  Miller, along with Shawn Marion will benefit from the time as they could be called upon in the post-season to play a role.

Until the Cavs lose home court advantage in a playoff season, there is no reason to worry right now.  So, relax and enjoy the games.

There will be plenty of time to be nervous in May and June.

JK

Tribe’s Spring Shows You Can’t Have Too Much Pitching

Going into the off-season, people were raving about the Cleveland Indians’ starting pitching.

After all, they had the American League Cy Young Award winner, Corey Kluber, heading up the staff.

Kluber went 18-9 with a 2.44 ERA and struck out 269 batters in 236 innings. And from May 1st through the end of the season, the right-hander went 16-6 with an outstanding 2.13 ERA.  There wasn’t much of a question that Kluber was one of the game’s best pitchers.

They also were the recipient of the best pitching Carlos Carrasco did in his really brief major league career. In 12 games, 10 of them starts in August and September, Carrasco went 5-3 and allowed just 14 earned runs in 74 innings, a 1.70 ERA.

You put these two at the top of a rotation, and you have a pretty good foundation.

Add in Danny Salazar, who was 3-4 with a 3.61 ERA over the last two months of the season, and Trevor Bauer (4.08 ERA in August/September), and considering that Kluber is the oldest of the quartet at age 28, and you had to feel optimistic about the Indians’ starting pitchers.

And an unheralded southpaw, T. J. House, an afterthought at the beginning of the season, contributed with a 4-1 record in August and September with a 2.25 ERA.

Over the winter, GM Chris Antonetti added veteran Gavin Floyd, coming off a broken elbow, to provide depth and an insurance policy should one of the youngsters take a step backward.

Then spring training started and the old baseball bromide was never more evident…when you think you have enough pitching, you go out and get more pitching.

First, Floyd’s elbow problems recurred and he has to undergo surgery to repair another fracture.  Since Floyd added to the rotation’s depth, it didn’t seem like a big deal at the time.

Then, Salazar’s command problems reared their ugly head once again.  While he was throwing hard and did strike some people out, fanning 15 in 11 innings of work, when batters did hit the ball, it went a long way.

He allowed five long balls in those same frames.  The righty needs to keep the ball down, and when he doesn’t he gets hit.

The consensus from Terry Francona and Mickey Callaway was that Salazar couldn’t help the team coming out of spring training, so off to Columbus he went.

The back up plans going into the spring were Zack McAllister, who we believe the Tribe management wanted to use in the bullpen, where he had some success at the end of last year, and Josh Tomlin.

Tomlin also struggled in Arizona, so he was sent back to AAA, leaving McAllister, who has had problems developing another pitch besides a fastball, to claim a rotation spot.

Others who could figure as the season goes on are Shawn Marcum, who has battled injuries over the last two seasons, but has won more than 10 games three times in his career.  However, the last time was 2011 and he is now 34 years old.

The Tribe also brought in veteran lefty and Indian killer, Bruce Chen, who will be 38 years old in June and had a 7.45 ERA with the Royals last season.  He did win 44 games for Kansas City from 2010-13, and he is left-handed which means he will have an opportunity until his arm falls off.

What’s that old saying about the best laid plans of mice and men?

All this means, is the Indians are probably looking for more pitching.  Not that they ever stopped.

KM

Tribe Should Be Cautious on Kluber Extension

Ever since Corey Kluber won the Cy Young Award last November, the jokes starting flying about when the Indians were going to trade the right-hander.

Of course, this comes from the last two Tribe winners as best pitcher in the American League, C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee didn’t make it through the following season as members of the organization.

Kluber is in a different place contractually.  While Sabathia was going to be a free agent after the 2008 season (the Tribe dealt him before he could get to that point), and Lee was eligible for the same thing after 2010 (he was traded in the summer of ’09), Kluber is under the Indians’ control though the 2019 campaign.

He will be 33 years old at that point.

So, of course many fans around town would like GM Chris Antonetti to lock up Kluber now on a multi-year deal to keep him in a Cleveland uniform for a while.

We say let’s put the brakes on that.

Why?

First of all, Kluber will already be in a Cleveland uniform for the next four years regardless of any contract extension.  Now, to be sure, the Indians will try to sign their ace so as to avoid the nasty arbitration process over the next few seasons, as Kluber will be eligible for that after this season.

Another reason is that the pitcher, obtained in a three-way deal in 2010 where Jake Westbrook went to St. Louis, doesn’t have a real track record.

He’s only been in the big leagues for two full seasons, and in his first extended opportunity, he was a solid starter, going 11-5 with a 3.85 ERA in 24 starts.  He allowed 153 hits in 147 innings, striking out 136 batters.

Those are good numbers.

Last year, he was off the chart, going 18-9 with a 2.44 ERA, and pitching 236 innings, fanning 269 hitters.

Since he threw 12 innings at Columbus in ’13, it means Kluber pitched 77 more frames last season than the year before.  That’s a warning signal to be sure.

Now Kluber wasn’t a youngster when he took that quantum leap in innings, he pitched last season at age 28.  There isn’t quite the possibility for problems for a guy approaching 30 as there is for a 22-year-old kid.

On the other hand, Kluber is older and a four or five-year deal would take him into his 30’s.

We understand that the reason to hammer out an extension would be to make the pitcher feel like the Tribe brass has confidence in him being the staff ace going forward.  But it is still risky.

As we all know, the Indians have to be careful how they spend their money, and they have had problems in the past (Swisher, Bourn) paying a lot of money for not so much production.

It would be a problem for several years if they decided to give Kluber over $10 million per year, and have him be a .500 pitcher with an ERA over 4.00 in 2015 or 2016.

And it is an unnecessary risk.  One the Tribe ownership is willing to take for public relations reasons.

We would let this season play out and see what kind of season Kluber puts together.

If he has another Cy Young Award like year, then approach him on a three or four-year deal at big dollars.  He would have established a track record of excellence at that point.

Then, it is a safer deal for the Tribe.

If they were a big market club, it wouldn’t be a big deal, but their payroll constraints, real or imagined, mean it would be better for them to be cautious.

Let Kluber fully establish himself as one of the game’s best hurlers before paying him like one.  That would be financial sensibility.

MW

Cavs’ Success Has National Media Confused

We must have forgotten all of the crazy stuff that goes on when LeBron James is on your basketball team.

Early in the season, when the Cavaliers were struggling, it was easy for the media, both local and national, to find things to write about this basketball team.

The stories ranged from David Blatt being on the precipice of being fired, to James and/or Kevin Love opting out of their contracts after the 2014-15 season and heading to the free agent market.

When LeBron was in Miami, those stories simply didn’t exist about the Cavs, because no one cared about him.

There were even times when stories were dug up several weeks after the fact, such as Tristan Thompson turning down a huge contract extension.

Actually, Thompson turned it down before the second game of the season, right before the deadline to do such extensions, but it became a big story when the wine and gold was struggling.

Then, GM David Griffin made the deals which re-shaped the roster, and the basketball team starting winning.  And winning a lot.

Last night’s demolition of Memphis gave Cleveland there 28th win in their last 34 games, a torrid pace to say the least.

Now, there wasn’t much controversial to concoct about this team.

Except for writing about the two scapegoats of the franchise, Blatt and Love.

We’ve been saying this for several weeks now, when the Cavaliers lose, you can bet the fans and media are blaming two people, the coach and the team’s starting power forward.

Local media people are always asking national types for the perception of Blatt, despite the fact that the last two times the wine and gold have had two days off and a solid practice, they posted impressive wins against Dallas and Memphis.

Why that doesn’t speak to Blatt’s ability and add how quickly the three new players fit in right away is a mystery.

However, he will no doubt be questioned until he wins the NBA title.

As for Love, without question he made the most sacrifices in his own game to come to Cleveland, and he will be rewarded with his first playoff appearance.  He has consistently said he will be back with the Cavs next year, but that hasn’t stopped people (even Hall of Famer Alonzo Mourning has weighed in) from saying the former Timberwolf player can’t wait to get out.

And in the past few days, they have blown out of proportion his comments that he and James aren’t “best friends”, and he thought his former UCLA teammate, Russell Westbrook deserved consideration as MVP.

For all of the talk Love did about wanting to be on a winning team, he would look hypocritical if he left the Cavs left one season to go to the Lakers or Knicks, the two most talked about places he will wind up.

Really?  That’s all they can come up with?

The point is things are running so smooth right now, that the national writers, who can’t fathom anyone would want to be in Cleveland, have to invent stories to try to disrupt the momentum of this basketball team.

To this point, it hasn’t bothered anyone.

To be sure, they thought J.R. Smith would do something crazy or wouldn’t fit in either, but he’s been a perfect fit here, and Blatt has called him a joy to coach.

It sounds like the players know right now that they have something special going on.  They know the playoffs start very, very soon.

JK