Since the first of March, we don’t know what to make of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
They went through that month sleepwalking on defense for the most part, and their three point shooting, a staple of their offense, began to get hit or miss.
Then, last Wednesday, they hammered the Boston Celtics, their rivals for the best record in the Eastern Conference during the regular season, in Boston no less, and it looked like they were on the right track.
But Friday night, the wine and gold was basically run off their home floor by an Atlanta Hawks’ team that gave their starters the night off.
It was similar to a year ago when Memphis was without many of their regulars and knocked off Cleveland at Quicken Loans Arena.
After the game, Kyrie Irving revealed that his knee was very sore on Thursday, yet Tyronn Lue played him Friday with a two game lead in the Conference standings.
Tristan Thompson is already out of the lineup with a sprained thumb, and Kyle Korver has missed several games recently with a foot issue.
Put all these factors together, and it doesn’t seem like it’s the formula for defending the NBA title the Cavs won last June.
In fact, there is only one reason for optimism. LeBron James plays for the Cavaliers.
Yes, you can talk about Russell Westbrook and James Harden for MVP, and we know Stephen Curry has won the award the last two seasons, but everyone knows that James is still the best player in the sport, and still its most dominant force.
For all of the talk about how Cleveland came back from a 3-1 deficit against the Warriors a year ago because Curry was banged up, Andrew Bogut was hurt, and Draymond Green was suspended for Game 5, no one talks about how James took that same Warriors’ squad to six games the year before without Irving and Kevin Love.
With Matthew Dellavedova and Thompson as his primary wingmen, he actually had the Cavaliers with a 2-1 lead in the series.
So despite the Cavs’ struggles over the last six weeks, we pin our hopes on James. And quite frankly, he’s earned that respect.
Lue should be called into question for some of the struggles. He has played James too many minutes, and Irving too, which many be a reason for his sore knees.
And after integrating the new players seamlessly a year ago, Deron Williams still seems lost, and Derrick Williams, who played well when he first came to Cleveland seems to be a forgotten man.
Deron Williams seems to defer way too much to LeBron and Irving. Let him do what he has done throughout his career, run the offense. He’s not a good defender anymore, but he is almost in a shooting role, and he’s not making shots.
The bench has been struggling lately, and it has been missing youth and athleticism, both of which Derrick Williams can provide. And he showed he could defend when he arrived on the north coast.
Lue needs to give him some minutes, probably at the expense of Iman Shumpert, but with a lot of age on the bench, maybe just use the extra body and play the 30+ year olds a few minutes less per game.
A win on Friday night and a win today in Atlanta would have allowed Lue to rest his key players until the playoffs begin next weekend.
The most important thing for the post-season run is having James, Irving, and Thompson rested and ready to go. We would include Kevin Love too, but he missed six weeks recently and probably needs the court time.
Pinning hopes on James is a tried and true method of winning, and based on recent events, it’s the only hope fans should be putting any credence in.