Watch Out NBA, the Cavs Are Hot
On January 13th, the Cavs were on the other side of the country in the midst of a dreary Western road trip. The team had just lost its 6th straight game, this time to the Phoenix Suns.
This had to be rock bottom. The super team that was supposed to take the Eastern Conference by storm was sitting at a mediocre 19-20 record, good for a six seed in the standings. In a matter of one week, the team had lost games to both the Philadelphia 76ers and the Sacramento Kings.
Not to mention the array of rumors that were constantly buzzing around the team. From David Blatt reportedly being on the hot seat, to the installment of several new faces following the Dion Waiters and Timofey Mozgov deals, Cleveland experienced its fair share of drama.
It is safe to say that things have changed.
Maybe it was the return of LeBron James to the everyday lineup. It could have been the turnover in the roster and new players that caused a morale boost. Or it might have been Kyrie Irving catching fire over the last couple weeks.
Either way, this is a completely new and revitalized Cleveland Cavaliers team that we are now watching.
Since that night in Phoenix, the Cavs have played 11 games and have won every single one. The 11-game winning streak has catapulted the Cavs 10 games above .500, putting pressure on the Chicago Bulls (.5 GB) and the Washington Wizards (1.5 GB).
Throughout the 11 game stretch the Wine and Gold have average a hair over 108 points per game, while allowing just 95 per game. Previously, the team had trouble in pairing together good offensive showings with good defensive showings in the same game. That does not seem to be a problem anymore.
The standout performers of this successful stretch can be no other than LeBron James and Kyrie Irving.
It is not a coincidence that the Cavs did not start winning consistently until LeBron returned from injury. These past 11 games have proved to everyone that LeBron James is still indeed LeBron James. It is not just his high-20’s scoring average that leads to W’s, but it is how he makes every one else on the court a better player. He is truly an offensive catalyst.
Since returning from injury, the King has averaged an extremely productive line of 28.8 PPG, 6.7 APG, 6.0 RPG.
However, it has not simply been the LeBron Show, which is certainly encouraging to see. Kyrie Irving has stepped up recently, taking some of the pressure off of the 4-time MVP.
During the 11-game winning streak, Irving has averaged 25.8 points per contest, including a 55-point outburst against the Portland Trailblazers on January 28th. He has especially heated up from deep, nailing 50% of his attempted 3-pointers throughout the 11-game stretch.
The play of newcomers JR Smith and Timofey Mozgov should not go overlooked, either. Neither of them will ever be spotlight players on an NBA team, but they have both done exactly what is needed of them since their arrival in Cleveland.
Smith has averaged a respectable 13.4 points per game since joining the Cavs, while providing the occasional threat from 3-point range.
Mozgov especially has proved his worth to the franchise so far. The 7″1′ Russian has brought the dominant paint presence that the Cavs have needed since the season-ending injury to Anderson Varejao. During the winning streak, he has averaged 10.1 PPG to tag along with 8.3 RPG.
Aside from individual development, the win streak has also put the team back in contention for a top 2 seed in the relatively weak Eastern Conference. The Bulls (4th) and Wizards (3rd) have both lost 6 of their last 10 games and are not exactly invincible in terms of their place in the standings. Ahead of them lie the Toronto Raptors, who currently boast a 3.5 game lead on the Cavs.
The Atlanta Hawks seem to have a clear path to the #1 seed in the East, however, behind them it is all up for grabs and the Cavs find themselves right in the thick of the fight.
So, how long can this streak last?
The biggest upcoming challenge comes on Thursday night, when a talented Los Angeles Clippers team comes to town. The Cavs squeaked out a 126-121 win in LA in the early goings of the win streak, but needless to say, this game has the potential to go either way. With the NBA’s longest current winning streak, the Wine and Gold will constantly have a target on their backs, no matter the opponent.
If I had to pick a game for the streak to end, I would say that it stops at 15 in Chicago on February 12th. The team will be coming off of a home game the night before to a decent Miami Heat team, so a loss in the Windy City would not come as a surprise.
Regardless of when the streak ends, this 11-game stretch has proved to everyone that this team is capable of doing great things. If there is one thing that we have learned in the last two weeks, it’s that a hot Cavs team is a scary Cavs team. The rest of the NBA has the right to be afraid.
By Jay Cannon
Image credit to: USA Today Sports, fivethirtyeight.com