Cleveland has made a number of nice moves over the last year, not least of which was getting LeBron James back in a Cavaliers uniform. With everything now in place, can this team make an NBA title run?
No team in the NBA has gone more out of its way to rebuild itself for a shot at an NBA championship over the last year than the Cleveland Cavaliers (46-26, 103.5 PF-97.8 PA) and club General Manager David Griffin deserves major credit for assembling what looks now like on paper (or a website or most mobile devices except Weedwackers) at least, the best starting five in the entire league. With Cleveland an uncatchable 8 games behind the first-place Atlanta Hawks (53-17) in the current (Monday morning) Eastern Conference standings, 3 games ahead of the 3rd-place Toronto Raptors (42-28) and 3½ games in front of the 4th-place Chicago Bulls (42-29), the Cavaliers and Head Coach David Blatt will probably end up as they are right now—the second-seeded team in the conference. And if the NBA Playoffs were to start right now, these No. 2-seeded Cavaliers would get the No. 7-seed Miami Heat (32-37)—the team which King James ironically last played for and one which disposed of Cleveland the last time they met on a week ago today on March 16 in Miami (their last loss)—as LeBron’s former running mate and good buddy Dwayne Wade had 32 points in the Heat win.
Should the Cavaliers (36-36 ATS, 19-16 ATS Home, 17-20 ATS Away) end up actually meeting the Miami Heat (200/1, Sportingbet) in the First Round of the NBA Playoffs—which tip off on Saturday, April 18—it would probably be a much tougher draw for this particular squad, then, say if Cleveland ended up playing one of the four teams between the 5th-place Washington Wizards (40-30), the 6th-place Milwaukee Bucks (34-26), the 8th-place Charlotte Hornets (30-38) or maybe even somehow the now 9th-place Boston Celtics (30-39) should they make the postseason and end up (likely playing Cleveland) in the 7th spot. A Head-Game thing of sorts. With just 10 games left on the Cavaliers schedule—including a Wednesday date (NBA League Pass, 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m/ PT) at Memphis against the surprising Grizzlies (49-21)—we’ll all find out fairly soon, but one thing’s for sure in Cleveland: The Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland is suddenly a pretty fun place to be at again now after that local kid from St. Vincent–St. Mary’s High School in Akron rightfully returned home.
Possible Starting Five
C—Timofey Mozgov (10.8 ppg. 6.9 rpg, 1.39 bpg)
PF—Kevin Love (16.6 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 2.3 apg)
SF—LeBron James (25.9 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 7.3 apg)
SG—JR Smith (12.7 ppg)
PG—Kyrie Irving (21.9 ppg, 5.2 apg)
Bench, Roster Depth
C—Brendan Haywood (1.48 ppg)
PF—Tristan Thompson (8.7 ppg, 0.8 bpg)
SF—Shawn Marion (4.9 ppg)
SG—Iman Shumpert (6.3 ppg)
PG—Matthew Dellavedova (4.5 pgg)
C—Kendrick Perkins (2.3 ppg)
SF—Mike Miller (2.1 ppg)
SG—Joe Harris (2.5 ppg; Re-called up Saturday)
SG—James Jones (4.4 ppg)
Injuries, Coaching, Intangibles (Potential Path)
The Cavaliers have only one real significant injury, 32-year-old C Anderson Varejao (Achilles) who has been out for the season, but who is now out of his walking boot and working in the weight room, but still reportedly having some trouble putting pressure and pushing off of his bad (left) foot. Varejao is scheduled to be back for the start of the 2015/2016 NBA season, but at his age and trying to come off his injury and with Mozgov now in town, Varejao’s best bet would be to try to become as effective and productive of a No. 2 Center as possible on this team he loves to play for so much. As far as Coaching, it honestly seems that LeBron James (Regular Season MVP 11/2, Paddy Power) is actually the Head Coach of this Cavaliers team and in potential playoff matchups, opponents like the Heat (Erik Spoelstra), Raptors (Dwane Casey) and Hawks (Mike Budenholzer) might be able to think themselves into ways of scheming and beating Cleveland and David Blatt.
Some other Keys worth consideration heading into the NBA Playoffs for this team, which has been playing some very good basketball of late, winning three straight and 8-2 over its L10: Will Kyrie Irving get that proverbial Green Light (to shoot when he wants) and run the risk of hampering any flow or potential scoring by teammate and superstar LeBron James? Will Kevin Love be forced to continue to assume a quiet scoring role as the team currently gets so much offensive production out of its guard positions and James? Also, can JR Smith get hot enough to make opponents dizzy from his scoring combined with LeBron and Kyrie’s? And how much can some Ancient Veterans like Shawn Marion, Kendrick Perkins and Mike Miller end up contributing?
With the Cavaliers healthy and in a good Headspace headed into this final stretch of the NBA Regular Season and LeBron James barking at his teammates, things seemingly couldn’t be any better for the Cavaliers (28-43-1 O/U, 12-23 Home, 16-20-1 Away) at this point in time. The onus is really on the Hawks to prove that in the Postseason they can be as good as they have been this magnificent Regular Season, while the Raptors just don’t have a solid record and experience getting to a (Eastern) conference final series while the Bulls perpetually lie under the Dark Cloud of Derrick Rose always being injured, coming back and then announcing he is injured midway through the season in true Groundhog Day fashion. Expect Rose to try to make it back, but it probably won’t matter in The Grand Scheme of Things with the starting five Cleveland has put together here.
Maybe the biggest problem for the Cavaliers this postseason will be the drop off from their Starting Five to their suspect bench and also maybe the potential path (Heat, Raptors, Hawks) Cleveland may have in the Eastern Conference (29-14 vs. Eastern Conference) just to get to the NBA Finals. But despite looking like an extremely big gamble at first, Cleveland’s trade of two First Round Draft Picks for C Mozgov was the perfect move that put this club over the top. With the 28-year-old, 7-foot-1-inch Russian, Love (6-10) and James (6-8), the Cavaliers have a huge and talented presence in The Paint and will surely be able to hang with whichever team may emerge from the Western Conference should Cleveland win the East. And then maybe some of the mainstream sports media will finally stop asking Cavaliers management and Kevin Love what his role exactly is with this team after he’s helped them win their first NBA championship in June. Hey, what role do nails exactly play in holding a wall up, brother? Exactly.
PREDICTED PLAYOFF DESTINY: Cavaliers get to NBA Finals
RELATED NBA PICK: Cavaliers to Win Eastern Conference +100 (Paddy Power)