The Cavs have put together an incredibly impressive series of games winning 14 of the last 16, bringing them to 33-22 and back in the discussion of title contenders. During this stretch, the Cavs have played better team basketball with the addition to impressive individual performances. The new look Cavaliers after the trades for J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, and Timofey Mozgov are starting to come together.
Here are 10 things the Cavs must do to carry this success into the post season:
1. LeBron Playing at a High Level
During the Cavaliers initial win streak of 10 games, LeBron James averaged 33.2 points per outing for the Cavaliers. He is averaging more than three points per game over his season numbers, but most importantly, he is shooting the ball very efficiently. His field goal percentage has stayed steady at his season and career mark of just under .500 but he his putting more numbers on the board. On top of the efficient scoring has been the consistent overall game, as he’s also averaging seven rebounds, six assists, and 2.2 blocks per game.
2. Kyrie Points Per Game
Without skewing the numbers, during the nine games that Kyrie was on the floor with LeBron during the streak, the All-Star PG has averaged 22 PPG which mirrors his season average. Add in his 55 point clinic he put on in Portland on Wednesday night and his average goes up to almost 26. The key to Kyrie’s shooting success, much like LeBron’s, lies in the percentage. During this streak Kyrie has averaged 51 percent from the field as opposed to his 46 percent on the season. That five percentage points makes a difference as it shows that he is playing more efficient basketball when it comes to shot selection.
3. The Ability to Play Without The King
Up until the game against Portland, the Cavs were 1-8 when LeBron did not suit up. His absence undoubtedly makes the Cavs a lesser team, but there is no excuse for that record with the talent that this team has outside of the best player in the world. With a seven game win streak on the line, Kyrie Irving stepped up and made a huge statement in Portland. Not only did he show that the Cavs could win without LeBron, but he made history proving it. Notching 55 points in the win, Kyrie set a Quicken Loans Arena record for points in a game, along with the highest total put up by a player in the NBA this year. Can we expect Kyrie to put up 50 plus every time LeBron is absent? Of course not, but it was definitely a statement. The new look Cavs are no pushover without LeBron in the lineup. Just ask Kyrie Irving.
4. James and Irving
LeBron is second to only James Harden in scoring this season. Irving ranks 12th on that list and only third among all point guards. Over the past ten games, LeBron and Kyrie would rank number one and three respectively in points per game, making them the most prolific scoring duo in the NBA over this span, averaging 55 points per game together. Once again, that number 55 comes up. What happened when LeBron sat out against Portland? Kyrie put up 55 by himself to carry the weight that the team was missing due to LeBron’s absence.
5. The Mozgov Factor
Timofey Mozgov has been a great addition to the Cavs lineup due to his inside presence and ability to create space for the other Cavaliers to take good shots. He has filled the void that was left when Andy went down for the season. He is having the best season of his career, with season average highs in points, rebounds and blocks per game, showing he can thrive in this roster and system.
The Cavs starting lineup (Irving, Smith, James, Love, Mozgov) allows 97.5 points per 100 possessions while scoring nearly 113.
— FearTheSword (@FearTheSword) January 31, 2015
6. Kevin Love’s Consistency
A lot has been said about Love’s role on the Cavs. There are some people who think he is underperforming, that he isn’t the player that he was in Minnesota, and that’s true, he is not the player that he was on the Wolves. Love went from being the number one option on a bad team to being a contributor to a great team surrounded by two of the best players in the game in James and Irving. Love’s numbers have gone down, he did not get chosen for the All Star game, and he isn’t getting the attention that he did in Minnesota. None of this matters. While Love would probably like to be contributing more, his role during this Cavs’ win streak cannot go unmentioned.
Love has played in nine of the ten during this streak and he has delivered six double-doubles in those nine games. His ability to score and rebound at a high level has helped elevate this Cavs team during the current streak.
7. J.R. Smith Stepping Up In The Starting Role
Sure, J.R. Smith throws up a lot of shots, but when he is on, he helps the Cavs win games. He has stepped into the Cavs starting lineup as a Shooting Guard with a streaky presence that demands defensive attention. He has knocked down 29 threes during the current streak. When he starts making them, it seems as if he cannot miss. Yes, his percentages are less than stellar, but he stays out on the perimeter a lot of the time which creates more room for Irving to do his magic. You could call Smith something of a decoy for the rest of the Cavs offense to excel, but that would not be giving his role enough credit. He is a constant threat for defenders to worry about. He isn’t afraid to shoot and in the wins against Charlotte and Chicago, he converted on 13 of his 20 three point attempts. He was pivotal in the win against Chicago and helped make the emphatic statement during the blowout over Charlotte, cementing him as a piece of the puzzle to the Cavs win streak.
8. The 100 Point Mark
Often times, when the home team scores 100 or more points while defeating the opponent, the crowd in the arena receives a free food or desserts from a local establishment. But there’s more to it than just scoring 100 points. When a team scores 100 points, their chances of winning a game increase exponentially. Seriously, there is a “scientific law” about it called ‘Lawler’s Law’ which states that the first team to reach 100 points in an NBA contest will win 90 percent of the time. This phrase was coined by Los Angeles Clippers’ broadcaster Ralph Lawler. Obviously, this is all playful nonsense as NBA games cannot be reduced to statistical estimates, but it is true that NBA teams only have a 33 percent chance of reaching triple digits, hence the free food for getting to that mark being a safe bet.
The Cavs, however, have reached 100 points in nine of 10 wins in a row earlier in January. The only game where they fell short was the Portland game in which they fell just short putting up a measly 99 points. It is worth mentioning, however, that Kyrie put up 55 of the 99 on his own largely due to the absence of James due to an injury. We can forgive the Cavs for not being a perfect 10/10 on 100 plus point games during this streak because we got to witness history against Portland.
The Cavs are averaging an absurd 109.5 points per game during this streak. That is a hard number to beat by any team in the league.
9. Sustaining Double-Digit Leads
The Cavs were winning by an average of 12.9 points per game during their win streak. Not only does that show just how efficient the Cavs are on the offensive side of the ball, it also proves that other teams cannot keep up when the Cavs are on their best game. During the streak, every team that the Cavs have played has scored 90 or more points per game, but the Cavs were besting their opponents by almost 13 points per game. The offense is connecting an all aspects of the game which wears down defenses and makes it seem as if no matter what the opposing offense does, the Cavs will do it better. Kobe Bryant had a career high 17 assists against the Cavs, but his team could not prevail. Bryant’s personal milestone marked the beginning of the Cavs streak. Other teams have played well, but the Cavs have simply outperformed them in the end.
10. This Team Can Win a Title…This Year
Sitting at 33-22, the Cavs are not where a lot of people expected them to be over halfway through the regular season, but the championship mindset from before the season began is starting to match the current state of the Cavaliers.
Yes, it has been a bumpy road to get where they are today, but there’s no doubt that when the Cavs are up, they are arguably the scariest team in basketball. If LeBron and Kyrie continue to perform at the same high levels that they are currently while Love continues to provide quality support, along with the play of Mozgov, Smith, and the bench, this Cavs team can only get better.
There is no more talk around the media of Blatt’s job being in jeopardy, the Cavs being overrated, or needing additional pieces to be serious contenders. The most important thing that this stretch has taught Cavs Nation is that this squad is capable of making a deep playoff run this year.