No GM, No Big Moves, But Cavs Still Team To Beat In East

Ever since the Cleveland Cavaliers lost Game 5 of the NBA Finals, thus losing the series, it seems like a black cloud has followed the franchise, at least if you listen to the national media.

First, GM David Griffin and owner Dan Gilbert couldn’t reach an agreement on the former’s future with the team and parted ways.

Then, they tried and failed to get Paul George in a trade with Indiana before the draft, and despite the lack of a GM, this one is really on the Pacers, because their general manager killed the deal.

And according to who you listen to the Cavs have lost out on other free agents too, even though most of those players received contract offers much greater than the Cavaliers can pay because of the salary cap.

However, one thing has not changed with the franchise.  They are still the best team in the Eastern Conference and the odds on favorite to return to The Finals for the fourth consecutive year.

That, my friends gives them a one in two chance to win the Larry O’Brien Trophy as NBA Champs.

The team with the best record in the regular season in the East, the Celtics added the prime free agent available this summer in Gordon Hayward, but they also lost Avery Bradley, an excellent defensive guard in a deal with Detroit to clear cap space.

The other challengers in the East, the Wizards, really haven’t added a significant piece, although they helped their bench, and Toronto’s point guard, Kyle Lowry got another year older, and they traded D’Marre Carroll and lost P.J. Tucker as a free agent.

Meanwhile, the Cavs still have the big three of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love, who together have lost just one playoff series in the last three seasons.

They also still have Tristan Thompson, JR Smith, and kept shooter extraordinaire, Kyle Korver.

The only players lost to this point by Cleveland are the free agents, Deron Williams and James Jones, and the latter is probably going to retire.

Now, we aren’t thrilled with the Jose Calderon signing, but getting Jeff Green is a solid move, and we will have to wait and see if Cedi Osman will be able to play in the NBA.

Whoever the new GM is, and it will probably be Koby Altman, still has some of the mid-level exemption to use to sign more players, and of course, there is the veteran minimum as well.

Some of the players we have talked about recently (Shabazz Muhammad, Jeff Withey, etc.) are still available and with cap space drying up around the league, who knows, perhaps a player like that will fall into the wine and gold’s hands.

As for James’ future, which everyone nationally has him leaving after the 2017-18 season, for every reason “experts” speculate why he will leave, we can think of one why he will remain in northeast Ohio.

FYI, that’s not a prediction, because we don’t think anyone, except for LeBron and his people, knows what he is thinking about right now.

What we do know is the Cavaliers will be a very good team at the start of the regular season and everyone should enjoy it because they will be the team to beat in the East.

As for the West?  Houston and Oklahoma City are challenging Golden State, and you can never forget about San Antonio.

The national media’s worries?  First, the off-season still has about two and a half months to go, so more moves could be coming.

But really, nothing has changed since the Cavs rolled through the East with just one loss in the conference playoffs.

JK

 

Kyrie’s “Shot” Doesn’t Mean He Can’t Improve

Besides all of the Kevin Love trade talk swirling around the Cleveland Cavaliers this week, there were a couple of rumors involving another member of the “Big Three”, and that would be Kyrie Irving.

The wine and gold social media went crazy, insisting Irving is untouchable.

A bit of truth here.  One of the trade scenarios was Cleveland dealing Irving to Phoenix for the fourth overall pick in last week’s draft, and guard Eric Bledsoe, who averaged 21 points and six assists per game.

The Cavs would have spun that pick to Indiana for Paul George, giving the Cavaliers a starting five of LeBron James, Bledsoe, George, Kevin Love, and Tristan Thompson.

Our confession is we would have done that deal.

Look, we have said this before, Kyrie Irving is a gifted basketball player.  There may not be another player in the NBA who is as creative around the basket as Irving.

And he made the greatest shot in the history of the franchise with the go ahead basket in Game 7 of the 2016 Finals.

He will always be a “made man” in Cleveland sports because of that.

But let’s not pretend Irving is perfect and doesn’t have room for improvement.

First, he doesn’t put forth a lot of effort on defense.  We know that many stars pick their spots defensively, and we get that.  That’s happened in the NBA for 40 years or more.

The problem for Irving is he takes entire games off defensively and there is no excuse for that.  As the great John Wooden said, the same skills that make players great on the offensive end can be used to play great defense.

Irving’s quickness can get him to the basket on any possession within a game, so it can be used to stay in front of his man on defense too.

The other criticism of Irving is when James is off the floor, the ball sticks in his hands as he waits for an opening to drive.  On a team who plays its best when the ball moves, this is frustrating to watch.

Check out these numbers from last season:

When Kyrie has 10+ assists in a game:  Cavs record is 8-0
9+ assists:  11-2
8+ assists:  12-5
7+ assists:  20-7
3 or less assists:  6-10

When Irving takes 25 or more shots in a game, the wine and gold is just 4-5.  There is no mistaking that when Kyrie Irving is moving the ball, the Cavaliers are a much better team.

And by the way, in those 10+ assist games?  Irving scored more than 25 points in five of them.  The ability to score and pass is there.

Because he is so gifted and just 25 years old, we have confidence that Irving will continue to improve and learn the game.

On the other hand, if you view his game realistically, he isn’t one of the top five point guards in the NBA.  We would rank Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, John Wall, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden better than the Cavs’ point guard.

Would our choice be to trade Irving?  No, but we wouldn’t deal Kevin Love either.  We are just saying that anyone can be tradeable if it makes the team better, and that Irving shouldn’t be untouchable because he made “The Shot”.

He’s not in the same class as LeBron James, yet.

JK

 

Cavs Need To Try Something New Now.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have given no indication they can win the NBA Finals based on the first two games.

The Golden State Warriors won both the first two games rather easily, winning by 22 points in game one, and 19 on Sunday night.

This makes Wednesday night’s game three a must win for Tyronn Lue’s squad.  Lose that one, and it looks like a sweep for the Warriors, not only in The Finals, but an unprecedented undefeated run throughout the playoffs.

Can the Cavs win game three and get back into this series?  Of course, no team is unbeatable, but it will be very difficult for the wine and gold if they continue to play at they did in Oakland.

First, we believe they cannot continue to play at the Warriors’ pace.  We understand Lue normally wants the Cavs to play fast, up tempo, but Golden State is better at it than Cleveland, so you must try something else.

That is not to say never run.  When the Warriors miss a three and it develops into a long rebound, grab it and go, and get an easy hoop.

We said in the middle of the regular season that no team’s defense is more dependent on its offense than the Cavaliers.  That is because, by and large, their transition defense is poor, maybe because they have some age on them.

So, if they don’t have a fast break opportunity, slow the game down.  Take as much time as you can on the shot clock and still get a decent shot.  Keep the number of possessions down, and perhaps you can frustrate Golden State with the slow pace, forcing them to take quick, bad shots.

Second, you must take care of the basketball.  You simply can’t turn the ball over, giving the Warriors easy looks.

The wine and gold also need to continue to attack the basket.  Steve Kerr’s team doesn’t really have a rim protector, particularly when they go small, and you have to take advantage of that.

LeBron James and Kevin Love have done a good job around the rim.

By the way, speaking of Love, hasn’t he laid to rest the theory that he can’t play against the Warriors?  He had a 21 rebound game in the first contest, and scored 27 points on Sunday.

They also need Kyrie Irving to play like an all-star.  Irving has shot just 40% in the first two games, and made curious shot choices both nights.  It was odd to see Irving trying to drive on Kevin Durant in game two.

The Cavs have to do better from three point range.  In the regular season, the wine and gold actually shot better than the Warriors from beyond the arc, but have hit just 31.7% from distance thus far in the series.

That seems to be a lot that has to change, but outside of changing the pace, which is difficult and takes discipline, all of the others are possible, because it was done in the playoffs.

This isn’t last year, and there is nothing to indicate the Cavaliers will be able to come back from a 3-1 deficit again this year.  They have to win on Wednesday, or this series will be ending much quicker than anyone in northeast Ohio would like.

They have to take it game by game.  Win game three, and you are back in the series.  Forget about the rest of this series, do whatever needs to be done to win on Wednesday night at The Q.

JK

 

 

Kyrie Can Be Frustrating At Times, But He Stepped Up At Right Time.

It didn’t look good halfway through the second quarter of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals last night.

The Boston Celtics were making virtually every open shot, and LeBron James picked up his fourth foul in the first half.  Could the Cavs weather the last six minutes of the half without getting blown out?

Kyrie Irving made sure Cleveland stayed within shouting distance until James could return to the game after the half, scoring in a variety of ways to keep the wine and gold at a 10 point deficit at intermission.

In the third quarter, Irving went berserk, scoring 50% of his playoff career high 42 points in the period as the Cavaliers outscored Boston by 17 (40-23) to flip the game in Tyronn Lue’s team’s favor.

We have been critical of Irving from time to time for not passing enough, falling in love with his dribble, and not playing hard on defense.

In Game 3 Sunday night, we thought Irving forced the action a bit too much in the fourth quarter, playing hero ball because he was looking to take over, and the defense wouldn’t let them.

Last night, he knew his team needed a lift with James on the bench with four fouls, and hit some outside shots to get going, and after those went down, it opened up driving lanes for him.

Our criticism of Irving comes because he is so talented.  He may have the best ball handling skills in the league, he’s a gifted shooter both from outside and around the basket, even though he gives up a lot of height near the hoop.

He doesn’t understand at times when he needs to take over, and when he needs to sit back and get his teammates going.  Then again, he is just 25 years old.  He has plenty of time to learn when and where and how to do it.

Irving shot an astounding 15 of 22 from the floor, including 4 of 7 from behind the three point line, in a game the Cavs absolutely had to have.

Can you imagine if the series went back to Boston even with two the remaining games in Beantown?

The wine and gold definitely needed to win this one, and with the best player in the game on the bench for the last six minutes of the half, Irving took control and didn’t let the Cavaliers get blown out.

With Irving going crazy, LeBron James got back in the groove, and by the end of the contest, his jump shot, which seemed to go AWOL in game three, returned.  That should bode well for the fifth game tomorrow night.

And don’t discount Kevin Love’s contributions either.  With Boston using two or three players to box out Tristan Thompson, Love picked up the slack with 17 rebounds to go along with 17 points.

In the playoffs, you win with defense, and the Cavs picked up their intensity in the second half too.  James always talks about playing with desperation, and being down at the half seemed to get that edge back for Cleveland too.

But the night belonged to Kyrie Irving and his incredible array of shot making.  When he combines that with the ability to make his teammates involved, Irving can join the list of elite NBA players.

JK

 

 

Cavs And Celts For A Trip To The Finals

It seems like a lifetime ago that the Cleveland Cavaliers last played a basketball game.  When they take the floor in Boston on Wednesday, it will have been 10 days since they played a real contest.

And with the first two games in Boston Garden, when the wine and gold comes home for game three, it will have been 18 days since they last took the court in Quicken Loans Arena.

Boston earned the home court advantage by winning 53 regular season games, compared to Cleveland’s 51 victories, but in terms of point differential, the Cavs show to be better, outscoring their opponents by 3.1 points (110.3 to 107.2) compared to the Celtics 2.6 (108.0 to 105.4).

The Celts have a reputation of being a very good defensive team, holding opponents to a 45% field goal percentage.

However, the team the Cavaliers just eliminated, the Toronto Raptors, were even better at 44.9%.

One decided advantage Cleveland has is on the boards.  Boston ranks low in that category, meaning Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love should control the glass.

As we know, Tyronn Lue likes to make someone other than the opponents’ best player to beat him in a playoff series, so no doubt the wine and gold will focus on Isaiah Thomas, who led Boston in scoring at 28.9 points per game, 12.6 more than the next best scorer, Avery Bradley.

We would expect Lue will blitz Thomas, forcing the ball out of his hands.

When the Cavs beat the Celts in the last regular season matchup in Boston, our thought was Boston had no answer for the game’s best player, LeBron James.

Boston’s starting small forward is Jae Crowder, who is just 6’6″.  A wise man said the problem with James is if you are big enough, you aren’t quick enough, and if you are quick enough, you aren’t big enough.

That capsulizes the Celtics’ problem perfectly.

Crowder can’t check LeBron, and we are pretty sure Brad Stevens knows it.  And of course, if you double him, he will find the bevy of shooters Cleveland has on its roster.

We also expect Lue to put Kyrie Irving (6’3″) in the post when he is being guarded by Thomas, who at best is 5’9″.

We would expect Stevens to do what he did in the first round matchup between the two teams in 2015, be very physical with the Cavs to get a reaction.

However, that was the first playoff experience for many of the Cavaliers.  This time, they are old heads, with a championship under their belt.

Still, this isn’t to dismiss Boston.  They are extremely well coached, as Stevens is one of the finest basketball minds in America.  But Lue can match him in X’s and O’s too.

What we are interested to see is what kind of gimmicks defensively the Celtics’ coach will come up with to stop the Cavs.  Perhaps he will make James a scorer first and try to cut off everyone else.

To combat this, Lue will try to make Kevin Love a scorer.  Love will draw Al Horford or Amir Johnson as a defender.  If it’s Horford, Love should go inside, if it’s Johnson, he will go outside.

We usually can find ways for the Cavaliers to lose if they don’t do certain things, so it scares us that we really can’t find anything in this series.

Cleveland should win and should win fairly easily and advance to The NBA Finals for the third straight year.

It would be great to go into Beantown tomorrow, and punch the Celtics in the face to show them early in the series there isn’t hope.

We will find out starting tomorrow night.

JK

 

 

 

Cavs Keep On Rolling

Another series, another sweep for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Tyronn Lue’s squad is moving on to the Eastern Conference final for the third straight season after taking care of the Toronto Raptors in the minimum amount of games.

And save me the Kyle Lowry excuses, Raptors fans.  Yes, he is your team’s second best player and an all star. But outside of Cleveland, no one cares the Warriors won The Finals in 2015 because Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were out.

Also, no one cares outside of northeast Ohio that Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar couldn’t start in the World Series.

It’s a loser’s lament.  We get it, it has happened to our teams, but in the end, people won’t remember.  Besides, the Cavs were dominating the Raptors (sorry, Dwayne Casey) before Lowry sprained his ankle.

So, as a result of the sweep, the veteran Cavs will probably get another week off before they take on the winner of the series between the Celtics and Wizards.

Just think how good the Cavaliers can be if Kyrie Irving ever starts shooting the ball well.  Irving shot under 40% from the floor in this series (37.5%), although he was better from three point range in the conference semi-finals.

It was another incredible performance by the sport’s best player, LeBron James.  The King averaged 36 points per game against Toronto, shooting 57.3% from the floor, hitting 48% of his long range shots.

He complemented the scoring and shooting by adding 8 rebounds and 7 assists in the series.  It has taken the post-season for everyone around the country to appreciate the greatness of LeBron James.

During the regular season, all basketball fans heard about were Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and to a lesser extent, Kawhi Leonard.

All three had tremendous regular seasons, but since the playoffs have started, James is reminding everyone who the best player in basketball still is.

Another thing this series showed is the transformation of JR Smith.  Smith came to Cleveland with the reputation as a shooter without a conscience, but now can be put on the opponents’ best wing scorer, and put him in check.

Smith’s defense of DeMar DeRozan in the first two games of the series was a big key.  Add that to the job he did against Paul George in the first round, he is a huge for what Cleveland wants to do defensively.

Back to Irving, he did a great job passing in this series, averaging 8.5 assists in the four games.  When Irving gets seven assists or more in a game, the Cavs are 23-6 for the season, including the playoffs.

And when Irving is being rested, Deron Williams has played very well.  He was on the floor when Cleveland busted open game three in Toronto, just as he was in the big comeback win over the Pacers in round one.

Finally, Kyle Korver was huge in the last two games of the series, hitting two huge three on Friday and going crazy in the second quarter today with 16 points on four three pointers.

And the defense continues to improve too, which was a huge concern going into the post-season.  When Toronto missed shots, Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love gathered up the misses.

So, the Cavs are back in the NBA Final Four, the conference finals.  Even if Boston wins the series in five (the quickest it can be over), it will probably be the upcoming weekend before the next series starts.

That’s the biggest benefit for winning early.

JK

 

 

 

Cavs Biggest Opponent Now Is Themselves.

The probability of the Cleveland Cavaliers losing their first round series wasn’t very high at the start of the matchup.

However, someone forgot to tell the Indiana Pacers that, because they almost won Game 1, and recovered from a 19 point deficit in the second half to make the second game closer than it should have been, but the wine and gold prevailed, 117-111 to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

So, the Pacers have the daunting task of having to be a LeBron James led team four out of five games to advance to the Eastern Conference semi-finals.

While publicly James says it doesn’t matter how many points the Cavs win by, as long as they win, the point is in a first round match up, style points do count, especially if the team struggled the way Tyronn Lue’s squad did over the last month of the regular season.

In game one, Cleveland had trouble on the defensive glass and shot just barely over 50% from the free throw line.  That’s not a good recipe for winning in the playoffs.

Last night, the Cavs won the battle of the boards, but only because the three frontcourt starters (James, Kevin Love, and Tristan Thompson) all had ten or more boards, because no one else had more than two rebounds.

And the home team hit 20 of 23 from the charity stripe, with the only three misses coming from James, who is working on a new free throw routine after a career low percentage from the line.

Again, only three players took free throws, with Love and Kyrie Irving making all 17 of their shots.

Iman Shumpert provided a lift in the second half after JR Smith left with a hamstring problem.  Shumpert seemed focused after getting a DNP-CD on Saturday, playing solid defense on Paul George, and chipping in with five points.

The bench still isn’t providing a lot of scoring.  Deron Williams had nine, but in total, the subs only scored 21, compared to the Pacers, who had 32 points off the bench.

Don’t blame Kyle Korver though.  Although the veteran has only taken five shots in the two games, he has captured the attention of Indiana, because his man isn’t helping off him.  That leaves the lane open for James and Irving to get to the basket.

Cleveland was +10 with Korver on the floor.

We understand it is early in the playoff chase, but the defensive issues which plagued the wine and gold recently haven’t been totally cured.  Indiana shot 51% in game two.

Nor have the issues with a fourth quarter lead disappeared.  The Cavs move the ball very well to get the lead, and then revert to isolation sets, which are resulting in long, missed shots on offense.

This allows the opponents to get back in the game.  And the culprits are usually James and Irving.

The Cavs only had 19 assists on 42 made shots in game two.  James had 7 assists, but Love was the only other Cleveland player with more than two.

Look, we don’t want the Cavaliers to be playing at their best right now.  Hopefully, they will get better incrementally as the playoffs move on, so they are playing at peak efficiency when and if they return to the NBA Finals.

Unfortunately, they can’t play poorly enough that they don’t win the Eastern Conference.

The best thing for Lue’s team is to make short work of the Pacers, and get plenty of rest before the second round matchup.  The quest for that begins Thursday night in Indianapolis.

JK

 

 

Trust In Cavs’ Playoff Hopes Are Based On LeBron

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.

JK

 

 

Guess The Cavs Were Bored in March?

If you subscribe to the theory that the Cleveland Cavaliers were just playing out the regular season, waiting for the playoffs, what you saw last night was Exhibit A.

After a feeling out period in the first quarter, after which Boston held a one point lead, the Cavs dominated the Celtics the rest of the way, in route to a resounding 114-91 win.

Did we mention the blowout occurred in Boston?

The win should sew up the top seed in the Eastern Conference for Cleveland, which now holds a one game lead over Boston, and holds the tie-breaker by winning the season series against Brad Stevens’ team, three games to one.

Much has been made about the wine and gold’s play defensively after the All Star break, as the Cavs ranked 29th in the NBA in defensive efficiency in that time span, but Tyronn Lue’s squad held the Celts to just 91 points for the game, and just 41% shooting for the contest.

And the wine and gold did some creative things defensively, blitzing the pick and roll on occasion, and trapping too, things they haven’t showed on defense since the calendar turned to 2017.

It was almost like the contest was a dress rehearsal for the playoffs, which start in about a week and a half.

Isaiah Thomas, Boston’s best player, got his, scoring 26 points, but the truth is the Celtics don’t have a good “wingman” for Thomas, as Jae Crowder was next with 13 points, and Al Horford, who must have nightmares about the Cavs, had 12.

Meanwhile, Cleveland had five players in double figures, led by the sport’s best player, LeBron James, who dominated the second quarter, had 36, and he was backed up by Kyrie Irving (19), Kevin Love (15 points, 16 rebounds), and JR Smith, who had 12 points.

Did we mention the Cavs played without their best interior defender, Tristan Thompson, who has a thumb problem?

Now, Lue can start resting his start players in earnest.  With a back-to-back situation on the road on Sunday and Monday (Atlanta then Miami), we would expect James, Irving, and Love to sit in one of those games, and if Wednesday’s regular season finale is inconsequential, which is probably will be, the “Big Three” won’t play in that one either.

Assuming they miss the Monday game vs. the Heat, that would give the trio about a full week off before the post-season begins at Quicken Loans Arena.

We aren’t going overboard about the win last night.  The fact is, it isn’t good enough to play with that kind of intensity for one night during the playoffs, it has to be done every night.

On the other hand, after the shaky month of March, it was good to see the Cavaliers approach a “big” regular season with a determined approach and the result was tremendous.

It shows the Cavs can still play like champions, they still have it in them.

Remember, this is a veteran team.  Cleveland is much more experienced than either Golden State and/or San Antonio.  Perhaps they know how to treat the dog days of the post All Star break schedule, saving energy for the playoff run.

We will find that out very, very soon.

JK

 

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.

JK