The Cleveland Cavaliers are finally hitting their stride more than halfway into the season. The Cavaliers are currently riding a season-high 8-game winning streak and have catapulted up the Eastern Conference standings. They sport a 27-20 record and are currently 5th in the East.
Expectations have been pretty high with the Cavaliers after the return of LeBron James and the trade for Kevin Love wherein the team gave up the NBA’s 2014 No. 1 draft pick Andrew Wiggins. Pundits exclaimed (and derided) the creation of this new super team. They were expected to race to the top of the standings and dominate the league, much like the Miami Heat did when LeBron formed a “Big 3” with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. That partnership yielded 2 championships and 4 NBA Finals appearances.
The initial challenge for the new-look Cavs was pretty simple-chemistry. Point guard Kyrie Irving used to be the top dog in Cleveland, the franchise cornerstone. Kevin Love was the superstar in Minnesota. LeBron James, meanwhile, is the best player on the planet. Somehow, the other two stars had to adjust to his style of play and sacrifice individual glory for this partnership to work. In the first few games of the season, the lack of chemistry was quite obvious and resulted in terrible losses.
Another factor was the entry of new coach David Blatt. While Blatt is one of the most successful American coaches in European basketball, this is the first time he took the reins of an NBA team. Coaching in the NBA is one of the most thankless jobs in the world. Coaching three superstars amid high expectations is harder still. At times, you can see that Blatt is still feeling his way but slowly, he is beginning to sell his vision to his players, a vision for victory.
James is also reestablishing himself as the “King” in a league full of players and talent who can easily snatch all that away from him. Battling minor injuries and trying to find his voice in this new group, James started slow in the early part of the season but has since come back better to anchor this winning streak.
Another factor is the terrific play of guard Kyrie Irving who is beginning to feel comfortable playing alongside James. He recently dropped 55 points—a career high —against Portland. James said that “he is becoming a leader in his own right.” Irving said that everything “was coming together.” This is a far cry from their first game against Portland in early November where they were thumped 101-82 and the two players actually exchanged words in the locker room.
The Cavs also brought in veterans to bolster their line-up and fill out their needs. Iman Shumpert is a great perimeter defender and can be depended on for hustle plays. J.R. Smith is a streak shooter and scorer needed to space the floor. Timofey Mozgov fills the need for a big body with the season-ending injury to Anderson Varejao. These moves have made the Cavs more competitive and it doesn’t look like their done wheeling and dealing.
After a slow and sometimes frustrating start, the Cavaliers are now back in the mix. With the talent and high basketball IQ residing in the team, things are pointing up for the team. If they can string more win together, they have a shot at locking a good playoff spot. The Cavs are becoming contenders once more.