Columns, Opinions

Klein ’20: The Cleveland Cavaliers are back

By
Staff Columnist
Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Cleveland Cavaliers hit rock bottom just nine days ago. In an 18-point loss to the horrible Orlando Magic, the Cavaliers looked old, unmotivated and selfish. Many wrote the team off as title contenders, especially in light of Cleveland’s 32-point blowout loss to the Houston Rockets the weekend before. But little did we know that in nine days’ time, the Cavs would be one of the hottest teams in the NBA and favorites once again to reach the Finals. With consecutive victories over the Boston Celtics and Oklahoma City Thunder, it is safe to say that the Cavaliers are back.

On Feb. 8, hours before the trading deadline, General Manager Koby Altman agreed to trades that dramatically altered the course of Cleveland’s season. After three deals, out were Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Iman Shumpert, Channing Frye, Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose. To Cleveland, meanwhile, came George Hill, Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. Incredibly, half the team had changed in the space of an hour. More incredibly, it seems to have worked.

The losses of Thomas and Crowder were additions by subtractions already. Thomas had worn out his welcome in Cleveland thanks to an inability to keep his mouth shut. Calling out teammates and talking candidly to reporters is fine for someone playing like an MVP candidate. But needless to say, Thomas’ comments, such as, “When adversity hits, we go our separate ways,” were not well-received by fans and other Cavaliers while he was averaging 14.7 points per game on dreadful 36.1 percent shooting from the floor. LeBron James dispassionately stood around watching Thomas miss shot after shot, with perceptible derision in his eyes. Cavaliers fans booed him off the court after his woeful performances. Reporters hounded the point guard after games.

Crowder, like Thomas, was not the same player that he was in Boston. He never found a rhythm in Cleveland and struggled to make even open layups, let alone three-pointers. In the aftermath of the trades, reporters described Thomas and Crowder standing off in the corner of the locker room away from their other teammates. The two players were only dragging the rest of the team down and had to go.

Wade, Rose, Frye and Shumpert were not big losses either, though their interactions with the other Cavaliers were far more peaceful. Cleveland lacked the athleticism and energy to compete with the league’s best — and none of these players were helping.

Clarkson and Nance have plenty of youth and explosiveness, however. Nance hits the boards with unbridled enthusiasm, winning the team extra possessions. His eight offensive rebounds against OKC were big reasons why the Cavaliers came out victorious in the tough road game. Clarkson, meanwhile, can create his own shot and drive quickly to the basket. He fulfills the role that a 36-year-old Wade was trying his best to manage, and the difference is noticeable.

Rodney Hood and George Hill, on the other hand, can make the three-pointers that Thomas and Crowder were missing, while providing much-needed defense. Even the players that were already on the team have been impacted positively by the four new guys. J.R. Smith is shooting the ball well for the first time all season, and his activity all over the floor has improved. James has refocused and has stopped turning the ball over so much — he put up 37 points, eight assists and eight rebounds against the Thunder. Cedi Osman, inserted into the starting lineup, has been a revelation. The rookie from Turkey has hustled his way into fan-favorite status.

Kevin Love is not even on the court right now because of his hand injury, and the Cavaliers are beating some of the league’s top teams. When their all-star forward is back, Cleveland will be more dangerous than ever — and no Eastern Conference team will be favored over this bunch.

The Toronto Raptors stand on top right now heading into the All-Star break. But this is a story we have seen before. The offensive system may incorporate more ball movement and three-pointers than in previous years, but the important personnel remains the same. The Raptors have a deep bench, but that becomes less important in playoff games when rotations shrink. DeMar Derozan and Kyle Lowry will decide this team’s fate, and with Lowry having a down season (16.5 PPG, 6.4 APG, 5.7 RPG), I wouldn’t bet on their chances.

The Boston Celtics have hit a wall, as their recurring offensive struggles are finally starting to lose them games. Kyrie Irving is terrific, Al Horford is the x-factor and Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are exciting young players, but will the Celtics score enough to last deep into the playoffs? Judging off their past few games against worthy opponents, the answer is no.

And who else remains — the Washington Wizards? Milwaukee Bucks? Philadelphia 76ers? Make no mistake, Cleveland is the best team here.

Of course, the Golden State Warriors are still out there and would beat any Eastern Conference team in four or five games, but let’s leave that problem for a later article. The Cavaliers are just too much fun right now to worry about Steph, KD, Klay and Dray.

George Klein ’20 can be reached at george_klein@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.

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