Sitting at 3-5, the Cleveland Cavaliers are off to a somewhat disappointing, up-and-down start after being viewed as one of the top talents in the Eastern Conference with their young, newly revamped team.
The letdowns just keeping, too, with the recent injury to Anthony Bennett’s freshly rehabbed shoulder, as well as his general poor shooting, and realizations of the player Andrew Bynum will never be again. Questions are surfacing about the relationship between point guard Kyrie Irving and new head coach Mike Brown, and everyone is wondering if Dion Waiters’ flashes of brilliance can shine through on a consistent basis.
Cleveland’s last two games really show the contrast of play between the “up” Cavaliers and the “down” Cavaliers.
Against the young, talented Philadelphia 76ers, the Cavaliers really showcased their talents, with Irving finally having the takeover game everyone has been looking for. Despite missing two potential game winners, Kyrie was able to capitalize on his third shot at the win at the end of the second OT and finished the game with 39 points and 12 assists.
Dion Waiters also finally had a great game on both ends of the court, racking up 24 on 9-19 of shooting to go along with six assists, eight boards, and four steals. His shot selection was much better and it was so refreshing to see him hit the boards and put in a real effort on the defensive end. This is the Dion the Cavs need in order to make a playoff run in the (near) future.
Jarrett Jack also had his breakout game of the season, dropping 20 points to match his five assists, four boards, three steals, and an uncharacteristic three blocked shots.
The three guard rotation of Irving, Waiters and Jack coincided with a fourth quarter comeback that erased the 10-point margin the Sixers gained after a 37-22 third period. There is so much fire power in the Cleveland backcourt, especially when considering the type of start C.J. Miles has had in his first 5 games, where he averaged 15 a game whilst averaging a true shooting average of 64%. He looks measures better than the player he was last year, showing more explosiveness and shooting more efficiently.
Another factor in this win over the Sixers was the switch in small forward: starting Alonzo Gee over Earl Clark. While Gee was not very effective on the offensive end, his defensive presence was felt.
The front court was very solid; anytime Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao get double-doubles in the same game, the Cavaliers have a great chance at winning it. Tristan was very tough at the end of the game, having a huge offensive board at the end of the fourth and a big block as the a crucial stretch in OT. This was Thompson’s fourth double-double of the season. Henry Sims also got his first significant minutes, and contributed five boards and two rejections to go with his four points in 13 minutes.
Monday night’s game against the Bulls was the flip side to this.
Irving had one of his most ineffective performances, scoring 16 on 5-19 shooting with only four assists, and was a prime example of the Cleveland offense all night.
While Mike Brown has completely turned around a terrible defensive team, he needs to find away to get some fluidity on the scoring end and get Kyrie in his comfort zone. Dion Waiters hit some tough shots when the game was basically out of hand, but showed his normal, ill-advised shooting self throughout much of the game, finishing with 13 on 6-13 shooting. C.J. Miles also had another subpar performance with nine points.
Good notes from the game come by way of big men Andrew Bynum and Tristan Thompson. Thompson had his fifth double-double in eight games; he is now averaging 13 and 10, and shooting a remarkably improved 75% from the free-throw line. Bynum earned his first start and made the most of his 21 minutes of play with an efficient 11 points. He was a perfect 5-5 from the charity stripe and put a highlight reel series of moves against the All-Defensive Joakim Noah on one possession. Even though Bynum’s explosiveness might never be the same, there is room for him to develop into a good big man in other facets of the game and becoming a big part of a Cavaliers playoff push.
And speaking of playoffs, the Cavaliers are in danger of missing the postseason for another consecutive season. A few things must change to assure this doesn’t happen.
1. The offense. Mike Brown needs to find a way to get Irving better looks and be put into situations with options to create for teammates as well as himself. He seems to be getting frustrated a lot trying to create and ends up forcing some shots.
I saw this a lot against the Bulls Monday and wonder if this is a result of strategy, personnel, or Irving himself. I can’t imagine Kyrie has gotten worse, especially after the offseason he had, so I am almost forced to think the Cleveland coaching staff is in need of some adjustments; Cleveland is the second worse offensive team in the league according to Hollinger’s efficiency statistics; they are also the second worst shooting team according to those same stats. They need to find a way to get these guards playing every game like the Sixers’ game. While Kyrie must be a focal point in this offense, I do not believe it is all up to him. Once these young Cavs find a rhythm, the points should come.
2. Anthony Bennett. With the depth the Cavaliers possess in the front court, I can understand some of Anthony Bennett’s struggles. Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao, and Andrew Bynum are all playing well, and I think Bennett is really struggling with his identity as a player on this team. With the recent switch of starting lineups, replacing Earl Clark with Alonzo Gee, I see an opportunity for Bennett to get more minutes at the small forward position, especially given the fact Clark has failed to get minutes the past two games and the fact that Gee has been known to have inconsistent offensive output.
I know Bennett was the number one pick and all, but I would imagine it being hard to solidify yourself on a team in the league that seems to have far bigger problems than their number one selection. We will see what happens with this new shoulder injury.
3. Rebounding. While the bigs are, for the most part, doing their job on the glass (especially Tristan Thompson), there can be more effort given the roster this team possesses. In four out of their five losses, the Cavaliers have lost the battle on the glass. Hopefully with Bynum starting to catch up to speed, Cleveland will maintain a dominance on the glass (We will see how this goes tonight against K. Love and the T-wolves, though without Bynum).