The way basketball fans in this area talk about the Cleveland Cavaliers, you would think their record is below .500 or something like that.
In reality, the Cavs are 18-11 with a little over one-third of the season being played, in firm grasp of a playoff spot (they are seven games ahead of the current ninth seed), and no doubt will get better as the season plays on.
Once again, if you look at the teams who have the best record in each conference currently, Toronto and Atlanta in the Eastern Conference, and Golden State and Portland in the West, you find teams that basically are the same as last season.
Certainly, none of those teams made the changes the wine and gold did over the off-season.
And for those fans who have been critical of coach David Blatt, his area of expertise coming into the season was offense, and the Cavs have the fourth most efficient offense in the NBA right now, behind just the Raptors, Mavericks, and Clippers.
Clearly, the offense isn’t the problem, despite reports from the national media (read: ESPN).
On the defensive end, that’s another story. They rank 21st in the league in efficiency on that end of the floor (just ahead of Dallas, by the way), although they are right in the middle of the pack in points allowed (14th).
Because the Cavs have LeBron James back and brought in Kevin Love as well, there is no doubt extra media attention on everything the team does.
That includes last night when Love didn’t play in the fourth quarter in the win over Orlando, because the five who were out there were playing well. Blatt did the same thing less than a week ago, when Dion Waiters sat out the entire second half because Mike Miller and Matthew Dellavedova were playing well.
The next game, Waiters received his normal minutes.
One thing that hurts Blatt is that James hasn’t made many supportive comments about the head coach, and really, has never made any comments backing any of his coaches over the years, outside of phrases like “he’s the coach”.
Over the years, superstar players have been linked to their coaches. Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant with Phil Jackson, Tim Duncan with Gregg Popovich, Magic Johnson with Pat Riley, and even Bill Russell with Red Auerbach.
James never has had that relationship, that the coach has the best things in mind for both LeBron and the franchise in total.
It might be time for that now.
When the Cavs struggle this season, it’s because they seem to drift off into bad habits. In the Christmas Day loss to Miami, the wine and gold tied up the game and then spent the last ten minutes playing a lot of one-on-one style, and at one point missed nine shots in a row.
This is the opportunity for the team’s best player to say the Cavs need to do what Blatt wants them to do: share the ball and make an effort on the defensive end.
If LeBron says that publicly, and develops a partnership with Blatt, that will unify a team that still seems to fragment at times.
After all, Blatt is a pretty renowned coach around the globe. He’s not Mike Brown and Eric Spoelstra, guys who were around the league for a while but never had success before they had James on the roster.
He’s had success coaching the sport for a long time, maybe not at the highest professional level, but he’s got more of a track record that the others we’ve mentioned.
Developing that relationship would show the rest of the roster just who is in charge, and just may be the catalyst for a very successful season.
That might be the biggest statement LeBron James can make as the leader of this squad.