Another strong week for the Cavaliers saw them go 2-1 to push their regular season record to 10-2 on the season and further cement themselves as not only the class of the East, but also cement their reputation as one of the top two or three teams in the NBA along with the LA Clippers and Golden State Warriors. Let’s take a look at how things went last week.
Things opened up with a hard fought home W against the Toronto Raptors. It was, once a gain, a lesson is how important strong starts can be. The Cavaliers continue to need runs of their own to answer stretches of brilliance by opponents punctuated and facilitated by moments of general disinterest on the defensive end. DeMar DeRozan looked slightly more human. He didn’t shoot it well (10-27 from the field), and wasn’t able to finish some shots after contact the way he normally does. LeBron continued his stretch of lights out shooting, going 10-15 from the field, including 2-5 from three. Everyone is in real big trouble if 23 continues to shoot well from distance. Tristan Thompson added 15 points and 10 rebounds on 7-8 shooting. He’s shooting 61% on the year. More on this later.
Transition defense continues to be a major area of concern, and I’m going to keep talking about it until it isn’t. Shorthanded against an Indiana team that appears to be figuring some things out little by little, the Cavs walked into Indianapolis, and were unable to leave with a win. No JR and no LeBron is obviously not a recipe for success most nights, but it certainly won’t get the job done when combined with poor transition defense. Indiana capitalized, scoring 23 fast break points despite being destroyed on the glass to the tune of 44-62. Indiana also posted eight steals and 12 blocks, while the Cavs turned it over 18 times. You won’t win games that way at full strength in the NBA, let alone missing two starters from an NBA Championship caliber roster. Someone has to step up in those instances. All said and done, Indiana rode those statistical advantages along with 20 points and eight assists from PG Jeff Teague, and 21 points, 11 rebounds, and five assists from All-Star Paul George to knock the Cavs down to the tune of 103-93.
A pretty good prescription for things not going well is coming back home to play Detroit. 25 points and 11 assists from PG Kyrie Irving will certainly help things as well. This was probably the most complete game we’ve seen Kyrie play this season, on both ends. He’s never going to be a good defender, but if he can be at least and average team defender, and get to spaces on time, that’s going to be plenty for the Cavaliers. I mentioned last week that Detroit did some unique things in the pick and roll, and Cleveland was ready for it, and mostly shut it down. Holding Drummond to 4-12 shooting and eight points is a feat. He did manage to put up 10 rebounds, but a -28 rating for the night probably isn’t something a lot of teams will be able to hold him to.
Light week for the Wine And Golders this week. It does feature their first look at two Western Conference teams that haven’t lived up to expectations thus far this season, but for different reasons.
On Wednesday, Portland and ridiculously good lead guard Damian Lillard come to town as the Blazers continue to try to get things sorted out. I thought Portland would be a lot better than they have been. Instead, things have been uneven, and concerns that I had about the natural system fit of Evan Turner are quickly being realized. He can’t shoot. He just can’t, and in that offense, you need to be able to a little bit. It is nice for them to have him on the floor as another ball handler, as he has always been a gifted and tricky passer, particularly in pick and roll situations. There are structural issues with this roster, and while I still expect that they’ll be a playoff team, I would be surprised if the roster is composed as we see it now come the end of February’s trade deadline. Ed Davis is better than most people think. He flies around, he is constantly giving 100% effort, and he can score a bit here and there without head coach and mad scientist Terry Stotts ever drawing up anything for him. Keep an eye on CJ McCollum when Lillard is out of games, particularly as the primary play maker and scorer.
Cleveland will have a chance to enjoy some home cooking for the Thanksgiving holiday, staying home to wait for the arrival of the Dallas Mavericks on Friday evening. Harrison Barnes has had to take up a lot of the scoring load for Dallas with Dirk sidelined for most of the early part of the season thus far. He’s done an admirable job, posting a career high 21.2 PPG on a very respectable 46% shooting from the field. However, he is averaging an almost impossibly low one assist per contest. Dallas is coming in at a catastrophic 2-10 and nothing, aside from Barnes playing at a high level, has gone to plan. Dirk has missed a ton of time, and now JJ Barea is going to miss a bunch of games due to an injury as well. This roster is pretty bad, and barring any sort of collapse, Dirk renaissance, or someone other than Barnes playing well (looking at you, Wes Matthews) the Cavaliers should roll at home.
As I mentioned, Tristan Thompson is in the middle of one of the most offensively efficient runs of this career. He isn’t posting huge numbers in terms of raw statistics, but he is maximizing opportunities, and is becoming more and more fearless diving to the rim to finish. One thing he has done, finally, is stop gathering with a dribble below his waist before he goes up to the rim. In the past, Tristan would get an offensive rebound, or receive a pass, take a dribble, and then have to use a series of hectic head fakes and Zach Randolph-esque shoulder and elbow moves to create space to get a shot up. Bad idea. This season, more than ever, Tristan is keeping the ball high and going straight up through his defender to get a shot up. As a result, he is getting more easy baskets. Nice to see that his game continues to evolve, even without changing dramatically.
I think some of the transition defense issues could be solved by getting Bird Man Andersen some more run. He’s a big that lives to run the floor and make things tough for offenses trying to turn the floor over quickly. Channing Frye has been great offensively, and more than adequate as a team defender in the half court, but he isn’t going to be a game changer on the break the way that Andersen has a chance to be. You can’t play him 20 minutes a night, because he just can’t give you that at this stage in his career. However, in spurts here and there, he may be useful.
Kevin Love is really…really good, you guys. He’s getting 20.3 PPG to go with 11.0 rebounds, and is looking a lot like the player everyone wanted him to look like when he came over from Minnesota where he dominated. It isn’t his most efficient season, and at first, the 43% shooting is a bit concerning. Unless you look at his career numbers, and see that his career percentage is 44%. You want your bigs to shoot it at a better clip, traditionally, but this is fine. He isn’t forcing shots, he’s taking a ton of different types of shots, and everything is coming within the context of a system and a coach that he’s bought into, as opposed to the coach and system fighting Kevin, and Kevin fighting them back.