The Cleveland Cavaliers got off to a very slow start this year even though they landed some top-level talent in the off season. Veteran superstar Dwyane Wade escaped Chicago with a buyout agreement to reunite with his championship buddy LeBron James. The Cavaliers swapped Kyrie Irving for Isaiah Thomas after Irving expressed his desire to move away from playing alongside James. Although the Celtics still have a firm grip on the first place slot in the Eastern Conference, the Cavs look to be getting stronger by the day even without Thomas and Derrick Rose.
Cleveland is currently riding the wave of a 13-game winning streak, and their new roster is finally getting used to playing with one another. Wade’s presence has provided a stable scoring contribution, and in Thomas’ absence, Wade is adding some skilled facilitation (around 4 assists per game) that has allowed James to take charge and showcase his scoring abilities. I’ve long believed that the Miami Heat was Wade’s team when he played for them, and his leadership provided the sort of intangible it-factor that allowed James to blossom. Certainly both players are older, but playing with James has taken some of the scoring pressure off of Wade, and given his health challenges in recent years, that should be an ideal situation for him to remain healthy.
Another player that is shining bright for Cleveland is Kyle Korver, or as the Cavs are now referring to him as, “4th Korver.”Against Sacramento, Korver posted 10 points in the 4th quarter alone shooting 75% from distance. Korver regularly contributes 10 points per game for Cleveland, and if the Cavaliers hope to be able to compete with a Western Conference team in the playoffs they’ll need all the shooting power they can get. Korver brings in a respectable 45% from the field but where he’s truly shining is with a season average of nearly 44% from three.
Other notable double-digit contributors for Cleveland are Kevin Love and Jeff Green. But James and his 28 points per game, 58% from the field and career-best 43% from three continues to be the driving force. It took a little longer than expected this season, but the king has awoken and as Shaquille O’Neal stated recently, veteran players aren’t looking for 60-70+ wins. They have a long term perspective and their goal is to remain healthy. The big picture is to maintain a solid conference position and stay steady to keep everyone healthy for a productive post season
The unknown for Cleveland is the situation with their point guards. Out since the beginning of the season with a calf injury, Thomas has been playing 4-on-4 with contact, and although Coach Tyronne Lue has stated that Thomas, “looked good,” a clear timetable for his return hasn’t been set. Previously, Cleveland said they expected to see Thomas back on the court by the end of 2017, but that could be moved up as he progresses. Cleveland’s upcoming game schedule is going to make it difficult for Thomas to practice with his teammates, but they plan to have him practice with the team’s G-League affiliate, the Canton Charge instead.
Even more uncertain is the timetable for Rose’s return. Recently, Rose apologized to his teammates for a two week self-imposed absence, and he seems to be struggling with wrapping his head around yet another injury. Once the youngest MVP in the league, Rose has dealt with five long years sustaining one serious injury after another. Rose reportedly stepped away from the Cavaliers’ organization on November 24th to assess whether or not he wanted to continue to play basketball. He’s apparently chosen to fight through recovery once again with the hopes of rejoining the Cavaliers on the court. Rose’s dilemma is certainly understandable given the number of times he has had to face this very situation, but if anyone knows how to recover and come back, it’s him.
The Cavaliers have tough but winnable games coming up starting with the Indiana Pacers, followed by the Philadelphia 76ers and the Atlanta Hawks. It’s possible they will creep up on the Celtics for the 1st seed in the Eastern Conference. One thing is for certain–don’t count the Cavaliers out just yet.