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

 

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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

 

Will or Can The Cavs Make A Move?

The crazy season in the NBA is in full force this week as the All-Star Game is over and the trading deadline is the middle of this week.

It will be tough to top the bomb that went off within the Association after the game yesterday, when the Sacramento Kings dealt perhaps the most talented big man in the game in DeMarcus Cousins to the team who has the other player in that category, the New Orleans Pelicans to Tyreke Evans, rookie Buddy Hield and some draft picks.

The team in the Big Easy now has the two best big men in the sport in Anthony Davis and Cousins.

Of course, with the Cleveland Cavaliers trying to defend their NBA title, and one of their best players down with an injury in Kevin Love, the question that concerns local basketball fans is will the wine and gold make a move to bolster the roster prior to the deadline.

Recent history, of course, says yes.

In his first year as GM, David Griffin traded for JR Smith, Iman Shumpert, and Timofey Mosgov, changing the roster dramatically, and putting the franchise into position to win the first championship in franchise history.

As we all know, injuries to Love and later, Kyrie Irving decimated the Cavs’ roster by the time they battled to reach The Finals, and Cleveland came up just short to the Golden State Warriors.

Last year, Griffin traded for another sharp shooter, Channing Frye, who contributed greatly in the playoffs after kind of being an afterthought in Orlando.  Frye showed that sometimes players who aren’t great contributors on bad teams can be very useful on very good teams.

Already this season, Griffin has been very active.

After Smith went down with a thumb injury after the holidays, Griffin traded for another premier three point shooter in Kyle Korver.  The veteran was showing signs of decline in Atlanta, dropping to 44% shooting, with 41% behind the arc, but in Cleveland, he has regained the touch.

In 19 games with the Cavaliers, Korver has hit 51% of his shots, both from behind the three point line as well as overall.  He has picked up the outside shooting lost with Smith’s injury.

Then, Griffin signed veteran Derrick Williams for added depth, and see our comments about Frye in talking about Williams, who was the second pick in the NBA Draft behind Irving in 2011.

Still just 25 years old, Williams has averaged 9.8 points in his four games in Cleveland, and has been very active on both ends of the floor.  He looks very much like he can be a contributor for the wine and gold going forward.

All of this history leads us to believe the Griffin will make some sort of move in the next week or so.  It may not be a trade, he could wait for players who will be released after the deadline, who can help Tyronn Lue’s roster.

One player we would advocate looking at is a player we thought about in the late summer, because he didn’t sign until late in the process, and that is Terrence Jones, who is likely to be moved by New Orleans after last night’s deal.

Jones is young (just 25 years old), and Cleveland could use some youth on its roster, and he is also long, another need for the Cavs.  Jones is listed at 6’9″ and his primary position is power forward, another need for the wine and gold with Love out.

He’s a career 50% shooter from the floor, but isn’t a three point threat.  He’s averaging 11.5 points per night in just 25 minutes per game.  He is also grabbing six caroms a game, and his reputation is that of a little better than average defender.

We are also sure that Griffin will come up with another back up point guard, because resting Irving and LeBron James will be very important in March, so Lue will need someone he can trust.

That may be a guy who comes to Cleveland in a buyout situation, perhaps someone like Dallas’ Deron Williams.

It will be an interesting week surrounding the Cleveland Cavaliers for sure.  We feel very positive that the wine and gold will bolster the roster for post-season push.

To this point, fans need to trust Griffin and his group because they have pushed the right buttons.  It helps him when Lue and James are around to assimilate the new players into what the Cavaliers want to do.

JK

 

 

Changes, Injuries Hurting Cavs Right Now

The Cleveland Cavaliers still sit at the top of the NBA’s Eastern Conference standings at 30-12, but they’ve hit a little bit of a slump.

They have split their last eight games, six of those coming on a long trip that spanned from Brooklyn to Golden State.

It appears the changes that have occurred to the roster have caught up a bit to Tyronn Lue and the guys in wine and gold.

First, they lost JR Smith to a thumb injury that will keep him out of the lineup until the middle of March at the earliest.  That led Lue to replace him with DeAndre Liggins, but he is not a very good outside shooter, and the league figured that out pretty quickly.

That forced Lue to start Iman Shumpert in Smith’s usual spot, which takes away from the defense on the second unit.

For example, Lue started newly acquired Kyle Korver, Channing Frye, Richard Jefferson, and Liggins with LeBron James at the start of the second and fourth quarters, and San Antonio went on runs both times.

Getting Korver is another change for Lue to handle.  He doesn’t seem to know exactly how he fits right now, mostly because of the very little practice time the team has had since he arrived.

Perhaps the best thing to do is to start Korver in Smith’s spot and put everyone back in their accustomed spots, the way it was early in the year when the Cavs were rolling.

Another complication has been nagging injuries to two of the “Big Three”, an ankle problem for Kyrie Irving and a back issue for Kevin Love.

Irving is shooting the three ball like he did two years ago, and his assist numbers are the highest since before James returned to the team.

In the seven games right before he hurt his ankle vs. Boston, Irving averaged 24 points and 10 assists per game with slightly less than three turnovers.

Since returning to the lineup, he has played eight games.  His scoring is fine at 23.5 points, but his assists are down to 4.5 and his turnovers are over three per night.

He just hasn’t found the groove he was in before the ankle issue.

Love’s back has been bothering him since the New Orleans game the day after New Year’s, and his production has dropping off dramatically.

He has scored over 20 points just once in that span and hasn’t shot over 50% in a game since the Cavaliers beat the Lakers on December 17th.

Besides the back issues, it seems like the Cavs have gotten away from getting Love touches near the basket, as he is relying more and more on three point shots.

In last night’s loss to the Spurs, Love took 15 total shots, 11 of those from behind the arc.

The team needs a healthy Kevin Love to succeed, but the lack of depth at the #4 and #5 spots in the lineup make it tough for that to happen.

We know James has lobbied for a back up point guard, but right now, the weakness that needs to be addressed is interior defense, which hasn’t been good as of late, and really the only player who can be counted on the contribute there is Tristan Thompson.

GM David Griffin needs to get another big, and the sooner the better.

We have faith that Lue will get the rotations down quickly and when Korver is more acclimated to the team, the Cavs will start playing well again soon.

We know what this team is capable of, and the talent is certainly there.  They are simply going through a period where a lot of players are nicked up and others have had to change their roles.

Lue and Griffin have earned the trust that they will take care of this.  With three home games following Monday’s game in New Orleans, and then five out of the next six on the road, it might be time to right the ship.

JK

 

 

Cavs Soaring Quietly To Start Season

Amazingly enough, the defending World Champion Cleveland Cavaliers seem to be flying under the radar just a bit.

Yes, the banner raising and ring ceremony, which basically put a cap on the 2015-16 season received a lot of attention and emotion from the northeast Ohio faithful, but as for the games, it doesn’t seem like the wine and gold are under a lot of scrutiny.

That’s probably due to the faith that winning a title gives the fans.  Our bet is if there is anything troubling basketball fans here, they are very confident that GM David Griffin, coach Tyronn Lue, and resident best player in the sport LeBron James will get it fixed.

To date, it appears the 2016-17 version of the Cavs is resembling what basketball fans thought they would be when James returned to the franchise and the wine and gold traded for Kevin Love to go with Kyrie Irving.

The North Coast edition of the “Big Three” is currently all averaging over 20.0 point per game:  Irving at 24.5, James at 23.4, and Love at 21.0.

The Cavaliers are also showing everyone the benefit of having Lue in charge during training camp too.  Lue talked about playing at a faster tempo when he took over in mid-season last year, and this year, he is putting that in place from day one.

Cleveland is the second highest scoring team in the NBA right now, and despite playing faster, they still rank right in the middle of the league in terms of allowing the opponents to score.

The wine and gold also continue to shoot a lot of three point shots (second in the league to Houston) and have the 5th best shooting percentage from distance.

This of course is due to the ability of both James and Irving being able to get to the hoop at will, which creates wide open opportunities for the like of JR Smith, Love, Channing Frye, and Mike Dunleavy, who to date has not converted as many as most have thought.

And Lue’s squad has defended the three point ball well this year, ranking 11th in defensive field goal percentage, despite opponents taking the third most shots.

Dunleavy has been one of the few disappointments to date, which there shouldn’t be many on a team that has started out the year 7-1.  He’s making just slightly over 30% of his long range shots, down from his career mark of 38%.

It may be a slump, it may be his teammates getting used to where he wants the ball, but when a player is 36 years old, and something in his game has declined, you have to wonder.  However, any decision shouldn’t be made after eight games.

Tristan Thompson isn’t on the floor for his offensive ability, but he is down to 5.1 points per game, his career average is 9.6.

You have to wonder if the lob pass he received regularly from Matthew Dellavedova is missed in his offensive arsenal.

The Cavs have had an easy schedule early on, with a lot of days off in between games.  This has allowed James to play 36.6 minutes per night without stress. That average will drop as the season goes, so the bench will have to give Lue more production.

This means quality minutes from rookie Kay Felder and perhaps Jordan McRae, who we thought might be in the rotation after Dellavedova’s departure.

Both players will have to provide defense if they want to get on the floor.

The Indians’ march to the World Series and the Browns’ march to perhaps an 0-16 campaign have put the wine and gold a bit on the back burner.  That’s probably the biggest result of winning the NBA title.

No one is worried if the Cavs can do it.  We know they can.

JK

Champions At Last. Ain’t It Sweet?

It still hasn’t sunk in that the Cleveland Cavaliers are NBA Champions.  Just the words, “World Champion Cavaliers” are enough to bring a tear to our collective eyes.

But it’s true.  The 52 years of sports suffering are over.  The city will have a parade Wednesday to celebrate our champions.  Yep, the best team in basketball resides right here in Cleveland, Ohio.

The game itself was funny because there was no opportunity to celebrate early because of the closeness of the game.

The game was tied with just over a minute ago, then Kyrie Irving hit the shot heard ’round northeast Ohio, drilling a three over Stephen Curry to put the good guys in the lead with less than a minute to go.

The defense had to take control, and when the Warriors missed and the Cavs got the rebound, we thought maybe, just maybe, the wine and gold were going to pull this off.

And after LeBron split his free throws after his hellacious dunk attempt giving Cleveland a four point lead with ten seconds remaining and a foul to give?  It was in the bag and we could start to celebrate as a city.

June 19, 2016 will be a date northeast Ohio will remember forever.

Now “The Shot” will have a different meaning here.  It will refer to Irving’s huge three to give the Cavs the lead they would never relinquish.

“The Block” will mean James’ incredible chase down rejection of Andre Iguodala’s lay up attempt to keep the contest even.  James said after the game that he had it covered no matter if Iguodala used his left or right hand to shoot.

“The Change” will refer to GM David Griffin’s gutsy and second guessed decision (even by us) to replace David Blatt with Tyronn Lue.  Lue had the right voice to lead this team to a title.

We said at the time the move put a huge amount of pressure on Griffin and James, but they were up to the challenge.

We also feel good for Kevin Love, the whipping boy by media and fans alike whenever anything went wrong for this team.  Love only scored 9 points, but grabbed 14 rebounds, had the highest +/- on the squad last night, and played remarkable defense on Curry, no less, forcing him into a bad shot down the stretch.

Love is a starter on championship team.  Doesn’t that alone mean that he fits in with this squad?  Shouldn’t that put to rest talk that the Cavs are looking to trade him?

The guy is an all-star who sacrificed his scoring because that’s what the team needed him to do.  And he’s a decent defender.  Yes, he has problems with quicker players when isolated, but so does everyone else.

He gets the last laugh though, because he’s getting a ring.

Lastly, what a performance by James.  Does anyone doubt who the best player in the league and the world is now?  Basketball isn’t all about shooting, and James contributes in every part of the game, that’s why he’s the premier player.

It is telling that Curry had more turnovers than assists in the series, and his ill-fated behind the back pass late in the fourth quarter was huge.

James fulfilled the promise made upon his return, and he showed to all doubters that he was a true leader.  Once again, thank you for coming back to the Cavaliers.

The celebration will likely go on all summer, culminating with a banner being raised to the rafters on Opening Night, and the players getting their rings.

Moreover, these players will always, always, own a special place in the hearts of every fan in the area.  They brought home a title and ended the so called curse.

JK

 

Cavs Live To Fight Another Day

The Cleveland Cavaliers live to fight another day.

It took two virtuoso performances, one from LeBron James, the other from Kyrie Irving to get it done, but there will be a Game 6 of The NBA Finals on Thursday night at Quicken Loans Arena.

Some people will pooh-pooh the win, because of the absence of Draymond Green due to suspension, but the wine and gold got it done, basically because two of their stars carried them to this point.

And one last comment on Green.  He was not suspended for the altercation with James on Friday night, he was out last night because of repeated incidents throughout the playoffs. Whether it is fair or not, those were the rules set forth by the NBA.

Now, back to the game.

The Cavs played a lot of isolation basketball last night, and it worked because they were making shots.  When Irving makes 17 out of 24 attempts, then playing that way works.  The problem is, when he shoots 8 for 20, it doesn’t look good.

Tyronn Lue’s squad was tied at halftime at 61, but we had a good feeling because they survived an onslaught of three point shots by Klay Thompson, who scored 25 points in the first half.

Even though Thompson was on fire, Cleveland didn’t allow any of the 12-1 or 16-2 runs that Golden State is famous for putting on its opponents.  For every Thompson make, either Irving or James answered.

As for the officiating, Golden State still shot more free throws for the game, hitting 19 of 26 compared to the Cavaliers’ 14 of 23, and when you consider six of those attempts came from the deliberate fouling of Tristan Thompson in the third quarter, you can see the Warriors still received the benefit of the doubt from the refs.

As hot as the home team was in the first half from behind the arc, they were cold after halftime, winding up making 14 of 42 for 33%.  Green’s absence could be a reason for that because he is such a good passer, and can also make threes.  Our guess is the Warriors will shoot better on Thursday.

With Green returning for Game 6, the Cavs are going to need contributions from others.  JR Smith was the only other Cleveland player to reach double digits last night, with 10 points.

Lue will need one of these three players, Kevin Love, Iman Shumpert, and/or Channing Frye to step up and make some shots on Friday.

Frye didn’t play last night, and the other two combined for just six points.  There is no doubt Steve Kerr is going to attempt to stop the two guys who hurt his team last night, so someone needs to step up.

Although Love will be hammered today in the media (because that’s what they do, he’s the whipping boy), he was plus 18 last night, so even though he didn’t have a big game, he didn’t screw anything up either.

We understand that’s setting the bar low, but the fact is Love isn’t a good match up against the defending champs.  However, he is a major contributor against everyone else.

This is redundant, but the Cavs will need to lift their game to an even higher level to win Thursday and force a game seven in Oakland.  Fortunately, they will have two full days of rest before the next game.

No team has ever come back from down 3-1 in The Finals.  That doesn’t mean it is never going to happen.  That’s what the Cavaliers have to hold on to.

JK

 

 

One Loss Shouldn’t Cause Concern

You really didn’t think the Cleveland Cavaliers were going to go 16-0 in the playoffs, did you?

That is why the Cavs’ 99-84 loss to Toronto last night doesn’t have us wringing our hands with despair.

After all, Cleveland still has a 2-1 series edge, and they didn’t do anything as damaging as losing the home court advantage in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The wine and gold shot 35.4% from the field in game three, and we believe most teams that shoot as poorly from the floor as Tyronn Lue’s squad did, would come to the same fate.

It is well documented that Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love shot a combined 4 for 28 from the floor last night, and we would bet that won’t happen again during the rest of the playoffs, let alone this series.

The Raptors were playing their first conference finals game in the history of the franchise, and they were up to the challenge, and their fans were rightfully excited for the team’s premier foray to the NBA’s final four.

There was a lot of emotion in the building and the Cavaliers didn’t diffuse it early in the game.

Love missed some shots early and seemed hesitant to be more active offensively, and Irving missed some contested drives to the hoop in the first quarter as well, but he seemed to take the Raptors’ bait, and continued to try to get to the basket by going through four Toronto players instead of moving the ball and letting someone else have open looks.

“Bad” Kyrie made his first appearance of the playoffs.

However, we will write this off as one bad game, and after the dominance the Cavs have displayed for most of the post-season, they are entitled to a off night.

Now, it’s Tyronn Lue who has to make some adjustments instead of trying to come up with counters to what he thinks the opponent will come up with.

We would guess Lue will try to get Irving and Love some easy looks early, so they can get the taste of game three out of their mouths as early as possible.  No doubt, LeBron James will help provide them with those looks.

Defensively, the wine and gold need to slow down DeMar DeRozan early.  He had his mid-range game going in the first half, although JR Smith was in good position defensively for many of those attempts.

As for Bismack Biyombo, who had the game of his life Saturday night with 26 rebounds, Lue said it best.  The Cavs’ coach said the Raptor big man had a lot of boards because Cleveland missed a lot of shots.

However, they need to continue to make open shots difficult for Kyle Lowry and Terrence Ross, because if either can get their three point shot down, it could make game four a difficult proposition.

To be blunt, the Raptors played perhaps their best game of the playoffs and the Cavaliers played their worst, and the outcome was still in doubt halfway through the fourth quarter.

And even if Toronto can hold serve and win Monday night, two of the next three games will be at Quicken Loans Arena.

Relax, it’s the playoffs.  It’s not supposed to as easy as it has been thus far.

LeBron James and his crew will play better in game four.  And Irving and Love will not shoot 14% for the entire game.

JK

 

Playoffs Start, Kyrie Playing Much Better

Over the last few weeks of the regular season, the Cleveland Cavaliers had problems playing consistently, even within games.

They also seemed to play better without Kyrie Irving in the game.

He monopolized the ball, endlessly dribbling, and hoisting bad shots when he couldn’t find a way to the basket and the shot clock was running down.

The biggest problem though was his shooting.  His marksmanship from three point range had dropped 10% from a year ago.  He was prone to games where he was shooting more than 20 times per game and barely get over 20 points.

We thought if Irving was on your team in a pickup game, he wouldn’t be much fun to play with.

However, he seemed to change all of that once the playoffs started.

With the Cavs on the brink of a first round sweep of the Detroit Pistons, Irving’s game has returned to where it used to be.  In fact, Friday night, he may have played his best of the season.

He was patient, yet aggressive if that is possible.

He looked to score early in the possession, and if something wasn’t there, he didn’t continue to dribble, he moved the ball and got it back.

And he hit the dagger shot with less than a second left on the 24 second shot clock with a corner three.

The former first overall pick is hitting 52% of his shots behind the arc in the series, and is making 46.8% of his two point shots as well.  His effective field goal percentage 56.5%.

He still isn’t much of a playmaker, ranking third on the team in assists (behind LeBron James and his backup at the point, Matthew Dellavedova), but he’s only had four turnovers.

And after all of the angst about how the “Big Three” doesn’t fit well, and doesn’t play well together, all three of them are averaging over 20 points per game:  Irving at 26.3, James (23.0), and Kevin Love (21.3).

Both Irving and Love have also played much better defense in these games vs. Detroit.  Love was put in a couple of one-on-one situations with Piston point guard Reggie Jackson late in game one, and forced a couple of bad shots.

Irving has held Jackson to 45.2% shooting from the floor, and he has taken just three free throws in the series, obviously the forays into the lane are being minimized.

Now, we understand the Pistons are the 8th seed, and obviously will be the weakest opponent the Cavs will play in the playoffs.  It only gets tougher as you move on.

But as we have said all year long, the wine and gold’s primary opponent all year has been themselves, and in judging them based on how they have played since the post-season has begun, they have stepped up the quality of basketball.

The Cavs still need to continue to improve defensively, particularly in the first half of games.  Tyronn Lue has done a great job of making adjustments at halftime, because the defense has clamped down in the second half.

As the playoffs go on, you cannot have a poor first half defensively because you might go into the locker room down double digits instead of down five, like in game one in Cleveland.

But the Cleveland Cavaliers appear to be in playoff mode, and it helps that Kyrie Irving has stepped his game up.

There were many in town concerned about his play over the last two months.

JK

 

 

Sizing Up Cavs Vs. Pistons

The Cleveland Cavaliers open the post-season Sunday afternoon at Quicken Loans Arena against the Detroit Pistons, and it doesn’t figure to be as easy as last season’s path to the second round.

As you well remember, the Cavs swept the Boston Celtics a year ago, in a series most known for the Celtics’ physicality.  We all recall losing Kevin Love for the balance of the playoffs after his arm was pulled out of its socket by Kelly Olynyk.

We say it won’t be as easy because the conference as a whole is better.  Boston was a below .500 team (40-42) in the 2014-15 season, and this year, the Pistons are 44-38, which would have given them the 6th seed a year ago.

That said, the two teams do have some similarities.  Both are playoff newcomers, it has been since 2009 that Detroit has been in the post-season, while the Celts were very young a year ago.

Both squads are led in scoring by their point guards.  Reggie Jackson leads the Pistons with an 18.8 average, and both Kyrie Irving and Mo Williams (when he was starting at the beginning of the year) had problems containing Jackson.

However, he is just a 35% shooter from behind the arc, so logic dictates that Cavs’ defenders make him knock down a few shots from outside and take away the drive initially.  That will be something to watch early in the series.

Unlike Boston though, the Pistons have a dominant presence inside in Andre Drummond, who averaged 16.2 points and 14.8 rebounds per game.  Detroit ranked second in the NBA in offensive boards throughout the season, so it is incumbent on the Cavs to limit the guys from the Motor City to just one shot.

Drummond’s achilles heel though is his free throw shooting.  Making just 35.5% of his tosses, it is very likely we will see a lot of deliberate fouling on Cleveland’s part to force the big man to the line, or perhaps to the bench.

It is hard to see coach Stan Van Gundy keeping Drummond on the floor in a close game because of this problem.

Still, it seems like Drummond could be a factor if Tristan Thompson cannot handle him on the boards.  We know Thompson is terrific on the glass as well, but the Piston is better.

And because Thompson isn’t really an offensive threat, it leaves Drummond free to contest shots around the basket, meaning the Cavs better have their perimeter game working.

When Channing Frye is in the game, he should get some open looks because Drummond doesn’t want to play outside.

This makes Lue’s handling of Timofey Mozgov more curious.  The big man will be needed in this series and in a potential matchup with Toronto in the conference finals

Mid-season acquisition Tobias Harris has been very good for Detroit since coming over from Orlando, but he pales in comparison to LeBron James, who will be his match up.

As usual, the Cavs biggest opponent in this series will be themselves.  If Irving and Kevin Love are scoring, it opens things up for JR Smith, and those four can put up 100 points between the quartet.

They also need to move the basketball and lock themselves in on defense.  If they don’t forget that is their recipe for winning, it should be a short series.

But make no mistake, these Pistons have some weapons which have been problems for the Cavaliers.  If they don’t pay attention to detail, Detroit could steal a game or two.

JK