After Sunday’s 112-103 victory over the Charlotte Hornets, LeBron James proclaimed the Cleveland Cavaliers ready for the playoffs.
And with a 3-1/2 game lead over Toronto in the Eastern Conference standings and just five games remaining, the wine and gold’s magic number for home court advantage within the East is just three.
The guess here is the Cavs “big three” could see a lot of rest between now and the regular season.
The biggest concern for Tyronn Lue the balance of the schedule, besides making sure everyone is healthy is getting Kyrie Irving back on track.
Irving’s shot is off, although there is evidence that he is taking the “shoot your way of a slump” approach.
In the first 32 games, the former first overall pick was active this season, he took 20 or more shots just eight times.
In the last 17 games he has played, he has hoisted 20 plus field goal attempts seven times. And in total, he has fired 20 or more shots nine times in the last 23 games, dating back to the first game vs. the Lakers, when Kobe Bryant urged him not to lose his aggressiveness.
Shooting would be fine if Irving’s shot was going down, but he has only knocked down 33 of the 104 shots taken in his last six games (32%).
Not only that, but the former three point shot champion has made just a little over 30% from behind the arc since the beginning of March.
For the year, Irving is making just 31% of his threes. Last year, he made 41.5%.
The Cavs simply need Irving to regain his shooting eye if they want to get back to The Finals, because the road will no doubt be tougher this season with the Raptors challenging, and don’t sleep on the Boston Celtics.
Perhaps he is still regaining the strength in his leg after the dislocated kneecap suffered in last year’s championship round, and that’s the reason for his shot being off, but Cleveland needs the Irving who is a threat from outside.
That could be why Kyrie is forcing his way to the basket so much. His confidence in his shot has waned, so he is dribbling too much trying to get to the hoop.
On the other hand, he often takes a quick outside shot without the Cavs offense having an opportunity to run anything resembling an offensive set.
Irving is not a strong defender and isn’t exactly a willing passer, so if he’s not making shots, Lue has better options on the roster to play so the team performs better.
That seems like a slam on Irving, but it’s really no different than saying if Tristan Thompson wasn’t able to rebound well, he shouldn’t play.
We have joked that Irving not playing means better ball movement and Kevin Love will have a good game.
The point is that LeBron James’ outside shooting percentage declining, and Iman Shumpert not shooting well, the Cavs need consistent shooting from three point land to stretch the floor.
Right now, only JR Smith, Love, and Matthew Dellavedova (as long as he is spotted up) provide bona fide threats from outside.
Channing Frye is a specialist. If he’s not hitting shots, we doesn’t get much time.
That’s why it is so important that whatever is ailing Irving’s shot gets cured before the playoffs begin.
We can live with the weaknesses in his game if he’s not scoring by taking a heavy volume of shots.
Going forward though, to become a truly elite player, Irving needs to be more of a team player and a better defender.
But the shot is the thing that has to get fixed. And as soon as possible for the Cavs.