Players & Coach Need To Keep Adjusting For Cavs

If you understand the game of basketball, you can understand that the Cleveland Cavaliers are going through some growing pains.

After the fast start when the four new players showed up after the trading deadline, the wine and gold have split their first quartet of games following the all star break, and one of the wins was a close one over the lowly Brooklyn Nets.

Not only are the players getting to know each other, but Tyronn Lue also is going through an adjustment as to how George Hill, Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson, and Larry Nance Jr. fit with the holdover Cavaliers.

One thing that continues to be an issue for the Cavs are slow starts, they have been struggling in the first quarter during the last three contests.  The problems have a lot to do with the personnel that starts the game.

In the first game after the break, Cleveland led Washington after one, 31-22, with JR Smith leading the way with 9 points.

Unfortunately, in the last three games, the Cavaliers trailed by seven, five, and four points after the first quarter respectively.

Smith has scored 11 points TOTAL, in those three games.  Could we make a case that the key in the first quarter is JR Smith?

The bigger issue here is that Smith, who has always been streaky, isn’t having hot streaks with the regularity he had earlier in his career.

So when you have Smith, Tristan Thompson, and Cedi Osman in the starting lineup, there is a real possibility you will not be getting anything offensively out of this trio, and that’s a problem.

That’s why Lue needs to balance out his starting lineup with a more accomplished offensive player.  We would recommend moving Rodney Hood to the first unit.

Hood would also give the first unit more length, and more versatility on the offensive end.  Smith is more of a three point specialist, while against Brooklyn, we saw Hood attacking the basket, taking just one three point shot.

Nance’s tendency to pick up fouls is the reason to keep Thompson opening the game, although it seems the latter’s offensive game has regressed since last season.  If starting Thompson means ending the game with Nance, we are all for it.

As for Osman, he will go to the bench when Kevin Love is ready to play, but somehow Lue needs to keep giving him playing time because as his defensive versatility.

The rookie has been guarding the opponent’s best player, regardless of what position, at the start of games, so the coaching staff has confidence in him on that end of the floor.

If that would happen, who would be the odd man out in the rotation?  As weird as it sounds, it could either be Smith or another veteran, Kyle Korver.

When Korver is hot, it is a thing of beauty.  He can turn a game around by himself.  However, his shooting is the extent of value.  His defense should keep him off the floor in close games when stopping the opponent is important.

The reason the newcomers stand out is they are multi-dimensional.  Players like Thompson, Smith, and Korver do one thing well, and that’s Lue dilemma, finding the right time to use them.

That’s what the last 22 games should be about, finding balance for the ten players in the rotation, so the lulls that occur within a game are minimal if they can’t be avoided.




New Cavs Are Exciting and Help Team, But…

There is tremendous excitement in Cleveland about the revamped Cavaliers.  They went from a team that appeared would be lucky to win one series in the Eastern Conference playoffs to the favorite again for many experts.

The Cavs still have the best player in the league in LeBron James, and eventually Kevin Love will return to the lineup, giving Tyronn Lue another scorer and three point shooting threat.

The wine and gold have now surrounded James with a cadre of three point marksmen, players like Rodney Hood, JR Smith, George Hill, Kyle Korver, along with Love.  All of them are shooting over 35% from behind the arc this season.

Those shooters provide driving lanes for Jordan Clarkson, Cedi Osman, and James to draw defenders so those shooters can get wide open looks.

Talk about success in the playoffs though is premature because outside of Hill, the newest Cavaliers have limited experience in the post-season.

In fact, Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. have never been in the playoffs, nor has Osman, who is a rookie.

Hood played 11 games last season, averaging 8.9 points and shooting 35.2%, (26% from three) from the floor, compared to his regular season numbers of 12.7 points per game, and shooting percentages of 40.8% and 37.1% from distance.

It’s a different game in the post-season because opponents prepare for what you do well, and trying to take it away.

This isn’t to say Hood won’t make adjustments or won’t learn from his experience a year ago and be better.  Nor does it mean Clarkson and Nance’s performance will drop from the regular season because it is their first shot in the playoffs.

One thing in the Cavs’ favor is their major competition in the East isn’t exactly overflowing with post-season experience. Boston has Jaylen Brown, who wasn’t a featured performer a year ago (12 minutes per night), and Jayson Tatum, who is a rookie.

Toronto has more experience, but their bench, which has received glowing reviews for their success this year, doesn’t.

Plus, the Raptors and Celtics still have the same issue they have had over the past three seasons:  They have no one to match up with LeBron James.

We understand finding players to can slow down James isn’t easy, but you need guys with size and experience.  Young players who haven’t done it before have issues matching up to the speed and strength of playoff LeBron.

Don’t forget, the Cavs still have players who have been through the playoff wars with three straight trips to The Finals in Love, Smith, and Tristan Thompson, and Hill, who has played in 83 playoff games, making two appearances in the conference finals.

Hopefully, they can show the new guys the ropes, like James did in his first year back in Cleveland, when really only he and Smith had playoff experience among the guys getting the most playing time.

By the time they get to the conference finals, we will know how the newest Cavs have responded to the post-season.  More importantly, Lue and James will know who they can trust during these important games.

Getting to the playoffs is a first step, and securing a good seed helps too, although home court isn’t as critical to the Cavs with James leading the way.

The newest Cavs will help with both of those things, but until we see Hood, Nance, Clarkson, and Osman play effectively in the playoffs, there will be some hesitation in believing the wine and gold can get back to The Finals.



Lue Reaching The Loyalty Vs. Stubbornness Line

One of the toughest things for someone in charge of a sports team is recognizing when it is time to replace a veteran player.

Likewise, it is difficult to see when a plan of attack you have used for years needs to be changed.

The greatest coaches/manager understand that.  They see what kind of talent they have on the roster, and use it to the best advantage.

Bill Belichick famously released Bernie Kosar when he was coaching the Browns because he saw that the quarterback was not the same player as he was when he took the team to three AFC title games in four seasons.

The great coaches think totally with their head and take emotion out of the equation.

That’s what Tyronn Lue seems to be facing right now.

Since he was elevated to the head coaching position in 2015-16, the Cavaliers defensive rating has slowly decreased.  The wine and gold are currently 29th (out of 30) in defense in the NBA.

Lue was in charge of the defense during the first run to The Finals for the Cavs (2014-15), but when he got promoted, he brought Mike Longabardi in to run the defense.

Longabardi has good credentials.  He was on the Boston Celtics’ staff with Lue under Doc Rivers from 2007-13, and the Celts were one of the league’s best defensive teams.

He went to Phoenix from there, and initially the Suns improved dramatically too, but they got worse from there, although to be fair, the Suns got younger in that three year span.

With the Cavs, the defense has never been as good as it was when Lue was running the show, and it has been reported that Lue provides more input once the playoffs start.

Whatever they are doing on that end of the floor, it isn’t working very well.  Yes, the Cavs are an older team, but over the years, younger players seem to have more of an issue on the defensive end than veterans.

Cleveland struggles in transition for sure, and we have said for the past two years that no team depends more on their offense for their defense than the Cavs.

However, the defensive issues have now gone on for two years.  Look at Jae Crowder, who was considered a solid defender with Boston in Brad Stevens’ system, which by the way, has also made Kyrie Irving better than he’s been in his career.

Crowder looks lost in Cleveland.  Did he forget to play defense as soon as he put on a Cavalier jersey?  We doubt it.  It’s just that the scheme the wine and gold is using is not effective.

Lue faces the same situation with players like JR Smith and Tristan Thompson.  Both were important cogs in the championship team of 2015-16, but they don’t look like the same players now.

Smith has dropped offensively and defensively from the past two seasons, and the changing game appears to be hurting Thompson, who isn’t as effective guarding smaller players on the pick and roll, and hasn’t been able to handle bigger players near the basket.

Right now, Lue seems reluctant to make changes in his playing rotation.  Cedi Osman seems to do well in limited minutes, but there are nights he doesn’t even play.

Smith and Crowder are two of the reasons the starting lineup is struggling.

Right now, Lue is being stubborn.  This isn’t a one week slump, the Cavs fortunes seemed to have changed when Thompson came back, and that’s been almost a month.

Luckily, there are still three months for the coach to turn things around.




Cavs Need An Aggressive JR Smith

When you are the Cleveland Cavaliers and your best player is the best in the sport, the scrutiny is unbearable.

The wine and gold have lost five of their last seven, and seven of their last nine, yet still have the sixth best record in the NBA.  But, if you listen to people talk about Tyronn Lue’s squad, you would think they may miss the playoffs.

When you figure in eight of the last ten contests have been on the road, with the next two also away from Quicken Loans Arena, you could almost understand the mini-slump.

Lue is working Isaiah Thomas back in the lineup, and he is bringing some added scoring to a starting lineup that really had only LeBron James and Kevin Love as scoring threats.

When Love isn’t making shots, which has happen in two of the last three games, the starters struggle to score and the Cavs fall behind early in games.

Unfortunately, Jae Crowder and more specifically, JR Smith haven’t stepped up when needed.  So, should Lue start pondering shaking up the starting lineup?

It’s trickier than you think.  First, the second unit has been so good, you have to think he doesn’t want to do anything to upset the apple cart with them.

Second, if you make a move with Smith, do you risk losing him as a contributor down the road.

Smith is second on the Cavs in minutes (29.8), trailing just James, playing about the same amount of time per game as he has since arriving in Cleveland.

His number of shots taken has dropped from 11 per game in his first two years here to just 7.1 this season.  And his defensive rating is the lowest it has been too.

Smith turned 32 last fall, and you have to remember not everyone ages like James, who is in his 15th season.  This is Smith’s 14th year in the NBA, so perhaps age is starting to take its toll.

Before making any changes in terms of who plays, we would like to see Smith start looking for his shot more often.  He seems to be looking to drive more often and his assist numbers are the highest since he arrived in Cleveland.

But that hasn’t been Smith game since he came to the NBA.  He’s a sniper, a shoot first guard with the ability to make tough long range shots, and when he gets going, he’s unstoppable.

He was the reason the Cavs took game one of the Eastern Conference Finals in 2015, hitting eight threes, scoring 28 points as Cleveland stole home court advantage with a 97-89 win.

If he can’t regain that form and that style of play, perhaps Lue should try Channing Frye with the first unit, providing another three point shooter at the start of games.

After all, when the veteran big man has played ten or more minutes in a game this season, the Cavs are 16-3.

Ironically, Frye’s three point shooting is down, from 40% to 31% this season, but he is making 68% of his attempts inside the arc.  His defensive rating is behind just James, Love, and Dwyane Wade on the Cavs.

Since, Frye’s time has diminished since Tristan Thompson’s return to health, moving him into the starting five could be a big benefit.

The other player we would consider is rookie Cedi Osman, who could provide length, hustle, and his defensive rating is just behind Frye’s.

It has been reported that instead of another big man, GM Koby Altman may be looking to upgrade at the #2 guard spot, which would mean the organization would like Smith to step it up.

The trading deadline isn’t that far away, so the time for Smith to step up is now.  He needs to be more aggressive on both ends of the floor.




From Our View, Cavs Have To Move Irving

The news that Kyrie Irving asked Cavaliers management to trade him after the 2016-17 season ended, with a trip to the NBA Finals, by the way, is a bit old now, and the emotion can be removed somewhat.

We hear a lot of local people, media and fans alike, suggest that Irving and LeBron James sit down together and hash out their differences and then play together for this season, take the Cavs to another conference championship, and a possible NBA title.

If it were only that simple.

This is basketball we are talking about, a sports that relies on talent certainly, but also trust and teamwork.

It is difficult to achieve success if four players are pulling in one direction, while the fifth man on the court is looking for something different.

NBA history is full of examples of this.

The Detroit Pistons, led by Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, and Rasheed Wallace probably didn’t have the best talent in the league, but they played as one, and won a title.

Heck, the Cavs in 2014-15 had James, Irving, and Kevin Love, but it wasn’t until they dealt for JR Smith, Iman Shumpert, and Timofey Mozgov, and moved Dion Waiters, that they started to win.

What happens the first time Irving misses a key shot, or fails to pass to an open teammate, or allows his man to get an easy look?

Of course, his commitment to the team will be questioned, and not only by outsiders, but within the locker room.

It’s that kind of stuff that tears a team apart from the inside, and would make Tyronn Lue’s job extremely difficult.

This is especially true since results have come out saying the players on the roster are taking sides, and the vast majority don’t understand why a player would want to leave a team that has been to three straight Finals.

As for what GM Koby Altman can get in return, he will not get a player as talented as Irving is on offense, so what he has to do is construct a team that will win in a different way.

He can get a point guard who is a better defender and better playmaker than Irving.  Remember how James and Matthew Dellavedova would play off of each other?  Maybe you can get someone who can do that in the deal.

You also can create a deeper roster, one that will play better with James off of the floor, which would in turn allow #23 to play less minutes.

Less minutes during the regular season would mean a fresher LeBron in the playoffs, and we all know he can control a game by himself.

A better defender means you don’t have to score as many points to win games, and some of the scoring slack can be picked up by Love, Smith (who had a tough season with injuries a year ago), and newcomer Derrick Rose.

A deeper bench means you won’t have the drought that Cleveland had in the Finals, where when James came out of the game, leads vanished quicker than our money at the Jack Casino.

Moving Irving is Altman’s best chance to reshape the Cavs’ roster, giving the team a better chance to compete at a championship level for the next three to four years, assuming James stays on the roster.

Right now, there is a lot of age on the team, and a deal would allow the wine and gold to get younger and more athletic.

However, it would take more than a meeting of the minds for Kyrie Irving to stay in Cleveland.  The trust is gone, and that would be difficult to repair.





The Transformation Of JR Smith

It has been said many times that no player on the Cleveland Cavaliers have had to sacrifice more than Kevin Love.

Love was a star in Minnesota, the guy the entire offense ran through.  He was a high scorer too, averaging over 26 points per game twice in his Timberwolf days.

With the Cavs, Love became a “third wheel” behind LeBron James and Kyrie Irving.  His scoring dropping to around 16 points in Cleveland, before climbing to 19 this season.

Many people say Love became a glorified stretch four, a spot up three point shooter.

That’s crazy, of course, but we guess people figured he was going to continue to average 26 points a game with the Cavs, which would be almost impossible.

However, another member of the wine and gold has sacrificed greatly, and it largely goes unnoticed.

When GM David Griffin made the three way deal early in 2016 with Oklahoma City and New York, it was thought Griffin had his eye on Iman Shumpert, a wing defender, who was also athletic enough to run the floor.

Smith was regarded as a throw in on the deal, a player put in to balance the salary cap ramifications, basically (it was said at the time) if you want Shumpert, you have to take Smith.

JR’s reputation was that of a troublemaker.  He has tremendous talent.  He was sixth man of the year in 2012-13 when he averaged 18.1 points for the Knicks, a season in which New York won their division and lost in the Eastern Conference semi-finals.

As the Knicks fortunes went south, so did Smith’s concentration.  He liked the NYC nightlife, his scoring average and shooting percentage dropped, and the Knicks management wanted to unload him.

His reputation on the court was that he never met a shot he didn’t like, and fired the ball up at times to make his coaches grimace.

We remember NBA writers saying at the time of the trade, that when JR is on a good team, he is fully engaged, which will help him with the Cavs, they were a team ready to make a title run.

In game one of the Eastern Conference finals vs. Atlanta, Smith stole home court from the Hawks with an incredible shooting display, scoring 28 points by hitting 8 of 12 from beyond the three point line.

Smith can still knock down shots, but he is the guy Tyronn Lue turns to in stopping the opponents best wing scorer.  He did a great job on Paul George in the first round, and gave DeMar DeRozan fits in the conference semifinals.

He had a thumb injury which required surgery this season so his scoring average dropped to under 10 per night (8.6) and his three point shooting fell from 40% to 35.1%.

But he is still a key member of the Cavs because of his defensive prowess, and it doesn’t hurt that fans around northeast Ohio love him.  People here don’t care about your past, they judge you on how you treat them.

His emotional reaction to winning the NBA title on Father’s Day a year ago is something we will never forget.  He thanked his dad for always standing by him.

So, while Love has certainly subdued his game in order to win, don’t forget how JR Smith has went from a player considered undisciplined to one his coach trusts to do a great job on defense against the top scorers in the NBA.

Sacrifice and unselfishness.  Lue and LeBron James always talk about it and Smith is a grand example of what they mean.


Is Kyrie’s Passing The Key To Cavs’ Success?

There is no question that the best player on the roster of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and for that matter, the entire NBA is LeBron James.

However, you can a very good case that when Kyrie Irving plays at a superstar level, that’s when Cleveland becomes one of the best teams in the league.

The Cavs got off to a tremendous start in 2016-17, heading into the new year with a 25-7 record.

Irving was very efficient in those months, scoring around 24 points per game and taking around 18-19 shots on average.

In December, the wine and gold went 12-4, their best month of the season, and Irving was incredible, averaging 23.2 points and 7.8 assists per game.

In one seven game stretch toward the end of the month, the 25-year-old had 10 or more assists five times, while scoring over 20 points in the same number of games.

However, January saw the beginning of the malaise that has enveloped the Cavs for the last three months.  The team went 7-8 during the first month of the year, and while Irving averaged 25 points per game during those 15 games, his assists numbers dropped to 5.2, and only two games with more than seven dimes.

His shots per game increased as well, going from around 18.5 in November and December to almost 21 in January.

The Cavaliers’ ship righted itself in February going 9-2, and coincidentally, Irving became more of a passer again, averaging 7.1 assists a night (six games with more than five), although the shots were up again at a little over 21 a game.

Kyrie didn’t shoot well from the three point line in February, making just 32% of his long range shots.  He was close to 40% up to that point.

Then came March, the worst month record wise for the Cavs since James returned to the team at 7-10.

Irving’s scoring was up (27.0) and his shooting was very good (almost 50% from the floor and 44% from long range), but his assists totals were down to under five per contest (4.8).

The former first overall pick had six games where he had more than five assists during March, and the Cavs went 5-1 in those games.  That means when Irving had less than five, Cleveland went 2-9.

Now, there can be many reasons for Irving’s assist totals to be down, one of them logically being his teammates not making as many shots as they were earlier in the year.

When you lose JR Smith for 10 weeks and Kevin Love for five, two of the Cavaliers’ better shooters, your assist totals could take a dive.  And there is no question, Irving tried to pick up the scoring slack from the absence of those two players.

However, in watching the games, the ball movement that was a trademark early in the season is no longer there.  There is simply too much isolation ball, and too much dribbling by Cleveland players.

We would also like to see Deron Williams be the playmaker when he and Irving are in the game together.  Williams seems to be deferring to Irving, dribbling the ball across the time line and then giving it to Kyrie right away, instead of letting Irving be the scorer in that lineup.

Perhaps Irving should be more particular as to when he needs to carry the entire burden of the offense, and spend time earlier in games getting the other players going.  Outside of the “Big Three” (and the Cavs do that with Love in the first quarter), the rest of the team is struggling.

Maybe getting them some good early looks will get them into a good rhythm.

But it is clear when Kyrie Irving’s assist numbers are up, the Cleveland Cavaliers win more often.

Another thing to look at for the rest of the season and into the playoffs.



What Needs To Be Done To Fix Cavs’ D

The Cleveland Cavaliers either have a huge problem or they are deceiving the rest of the NBA.

They haven’t played solid defense for most of the season, but over the last few weeks, the ease at which opponents are scoring has become alarming.  Allowing over 125 points is becoming a regular occurrence.

We feel there are several factors at work here, some of which can be fixed prior to the beginning of the NBA playoffs, and some that may not be able to be repaired.

The first problem is familiarity.  Since JR Smith was injured around the holidays, Cleveland’s roster has been in flux.  Kyle Korver, Derrick Williams, Deron Williams, Andrew Bogut, and Larry Sanders have all been brought in, and Smith and Kevin Love missed significant time with injuries.

Those things, coupled with the lack of practice time NBA teams, particularly older ones, get during the regular season, make defensive rotations difficult to assimilate, and that shows in games.

There are many nights where the wine and gold look like they just met in a pick up game on the playground.  Really, they pretty much did.

The second problem is the defensive schemes are very vanilla, and this is by design because Tyronn Lue and his staff aren’t showing anything for the playoffs.  For the most part, the Cavs aren’t blitzing the pick and roll, and aren’t trapping point guards to force the ball out of his hands.

We are sure this will be done once the post-season starts.  Think back to the Boston game early in March and last night’s contest vs. Washington.  The Cavaliers pretty much guarded both Isaiah Thomas and John Wall straight up.  That won’t be the case in a playoff series.

It looks ugly now, but why show either potential opponent your cards before you have to.

However, we can call into question Lue’s playing rotations.  He has a deep roster, but still insists on playing LeBron James 38-40 minutes per game.  With the playoffs beckoning, why not reduce that to around 32 per night.

He also has too many lineups on the floor with glaring deficiencies.  For example, a group without Love and Tristan Thompson, which results in opponents getting second and third shot chances.

We see too many group on the floor without a solid defender besides James.  It is his job to make sure there are at least two or maybe three players who can guard someone on the floor at all times.

He has cut back on the playing time of Derrick Williams, an young, active guy who has shown signs he can guard someone.  Which is exactly what the Cavs need right now.

We know Cleveland wants to go into the playoffs healthy, but a big problem defensively is allowing dribble penetration out front.  Kyrie Irving isn’t fighting through picks and isn’t staying in front of his man.

If you know the game, this leads to the interior defenders having to pick those men up, leaving their man open, or leading to ball rotation for an open three point look.  You can’t have that in the playoffs.

Speaking of interior defense, all of the minutes and guarding on the perimeter seem to have taken a toll on Thompson, whose defense has slipped as the season has progressed.

His ability to guard smaller men away from the basket on switches was a key to last year’s title run.

The regular season games are winding down, meaning fixing the problem soon is critical to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

If they play defense like they have over the last month or so, they simply will not win the Eastern Conference again.  Let’s hope our theory on being secretive about their plans is correct.




Cavs’ Defensive Issues Are Due To All The Changes.

Our initial reaction after the Cleveland Cavaliers lost to the Detroit Pistons on Thursday night was they looked like they had never played with each other before.

Which, of course, is true.

Think about it, Derrick Williams has been with the team for about three weeks, Deron Williams about two.  Kyle Korver has been with the wine and gold since early January (he didn’t play on Thursday), so he’s never been on the floor as a teammate of JR Smith, who missed two and a half months with a thumb injury.

This presents a problem offensively, as Deron Williams learns where the rest of the players like to get the ball so they can score.

And as great as LeBron James is, and as much as he studies his teammates as well as opponents (remember how he told us we watched tape of Korver to see where he likes to catch the ball), even he admitted last night how tough this year has been with all the comings and goings due to roster moves and injuries.

There have been too many games recently where the James and Kyrie Irving are scoring almost half of the Cavs’ points.

Anyone still want to tell us how Kevin Love isn’t important to this team?

Love is a guy who is scoring more than 20 points per game, and in addition to that, is a huge factor on the defensive boards.  Anyone else notice the increasing amount of offensive rebounds the Cavaliers are giving up?

It is even a bigger problem defensively.  On that side of the ball, there is a great deal of trust, knowing you can pass an opponent off to another member of the Cavs, but you have to know they are going to be there.

Think about what Tyronn Lue has had to do on the fly.

He got Korver basically to replace Smith when he went down, and although Korver isn’t a horrible defender, he tries to hide his lack of quickness with knowing where to be, he isn’t as good a defender as Smith, who emerged last year as very good on that end of the floor.

Love isn’t an elite defender, but he is better than most people think, but replacing him in the starting lineup with Channing Frye is a large drop off in defense.  The wine and gold’s defensive rating takes a huge hit when Frye is on the floor.

Another issue with Love being out is that it has taken a toll on the Cavs’ chief interior defender, Tristan Thompson.

Thompson seems to be getting worn down as the season has progressed, having to battle opposing big men basically by himself over the past few weeks.

No doubt this was the biggest reason Andrew Bogut was signed, and also that it appears Larry Sanders will be inked to a deal in the coming week.

Smith is back now, and hopefully Korver’s foot won’t cause him to miss too many more games.

Love should back soon as well, perhaps in about 2 weeks.

Getting everyone back, and getting some extra practice time before the playoffs begin could be the biggest remedy for the defensive issues the team has had.

They need to play and practice together to get the trust back on the defensive end of the floor.  That should greatly decrease the glaring breakdowns when the opponents have the ball.

With all of the shuffling on who is and isn’t available on a nightly basis, something is going to suffer, and it’s usually defense.

When that improves, this team will be very difficult to beat.



Cavs’ Injuries Adding To Difficult March Slate

Since the beginning of the calendar year, the Cleveland Cavaliers seem to have been beset by injuries, which makes people nervous about the prospect to repeating as NBA champions.

It started with JR Smith’s thumb, which has him out until what looks like the middle of March.  The question with this malady is will Smith have enough time to round back into shape, more of that meaning will his outside shooting be up to standard come playoff time in the middle of April.

Smith’s shooting and defense were of tremendous importance in the run to the title a year ago, so the seriousness of this injuries cannot be understated.

Then came the Kevin Love situation.  First it was his back, which caused him to miss a few games, and now comes the revelation that the all-star forward has some knee problems, and it would not be surprising if he needs to miss about 3-4 weeks of action, which would put him out until the middle of March too.

And we haven’t even mentioned Iman Shumpert’s sprained ankle, which has put him out for a week, and at this point, it would be in the Cavs’ best interest to keep the guard out of action until after the All Star break.

With these injuries to key players, it is kind of amazing the wine and gold are still sitting at 37-16 and with the best record in the Eastern Conference by two games over Boston.

While no injuries are timely, these comes at a particularly bad time because the schedule is very heavy with road games in March.

After a road game tonight and a game vs. Indiana at The Q tomorrow, the Cavaliers start the post break slate with three home games.

Then, starting on March 1st, seven of the next eight games are on the road, and included in that span are games against Boston, Atlanta, Houston, and a home/road back to back against Miami.

It doesn’t get any easier after that.  Following two home games against Detroit and Utah, Tyronn Lue’s squad goes back out west for games with the Clippers, Lakers, and Nuggets, then stopping in Charlotte before heading home.

At the very least, that portion of the trip could be concerned with getting Love and Smith back in the groove for the playoffs.

Besides all of the schedule and injury problems, remember that the trading deadline takes place next week, and it wouldn’t be a shock if GM David Griffin makes some sort of a move at the deadline to bolster the Cavs for the stretch run.

That puts Lue squarely in the middle as the guy who has to bring this all together, and he needs to do it while still winning games.

Over the past three years, and we include the year David Blatt was in charge, the Cavs have done a great job integrating new players into their culture, a tribute to both the coaching staff and the team’s leader, LeBron James.

Look at how quickly Derrick Williams has seemed to fit in being here not even a week.

Tristan Thompson summed it up the other night when he said the Cavaliers bring in guys who do one thing really well, and allow them to do what they do best.

The biggest thing is getting everyone in full gear when the playoffs start in the middle of April.

There isn’t any evidence to suggest this organization can’t do just that.