With explosive LeBron, Cavs can still do great things
Ten random dribbles on the Cavaliers:
1. If LeBron James is as healthy and explosive as he looked last week, the Cavaliers will compete for a title. I don’t care about the defense, I don’t care about how Andrew Wiggins is doing in Minnesota, I don’t care where the Cavs finish in the playoff seedings. I’ve covered this league for 20 years. I’ve seen a lot of basketball. The best players always compete for a title. LeBron James, when healthy and explosive as he was last week, is the best player.
2. The Cavs are 21-20 at the midway point. That’s not all that great. But let’s say they go on another eight-game winning streak. Let’s say they even win 10 straight — which this team is certainly capable of doing. Suddenly, they’re 31-20 and suddenly they’re chasing (and perhaps catching) the Bulls for third in the East. The Cavs have issues. But trust me when I say that with LeBron, all things are possible. The Cavs can finish with the eighth seed, it won’t matter. You have to win on the road in the playoffs. If LeBron is healthy and explosive, they will.
3. With LeBron James, the Cavs are 20-12. That makes them 1-8 otherwise. The Cavs are also 18-11 when all of their Big Three plays. That means they’re 3-9 when LeBron, Kevin Love or Kyrie Irving misses a game. Read: People need to get off Love’s case. I know, I’m one of them. But he won me over with how well he played against the Lakers with back spasms. I just wish he would’ve played the next night at the Clippers. Team doctors are major wimps these days. Larry Bird would’ve told them, "Shut up. I’m playing." Love may have tried, to no avail.
4. That’s not to say all is perfect in the world just because the Cavs swept the LA trip. They have major issues defensively. There’s very little effort for a full 48 minutes. Nobody bothers to get back after a missed shot or turnover, and the transition D is overall awful. With the athletes on this team, that’s inexcusable. It’s not like we’re talking about a broken down Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish with the 1987 Celtics. These guys could be a very good defensive team. But they have to want it — and LeBron needs to lead the way in that department.
5. Of course, I’m still not worried about the Cavs. They don’t need to be an elite team on D. They do, however, need to be average. I think Iman Shumpert will help quite a bit in that area. He could be back from a shoulder injury by the end of the week to play his first game as a Cavalier.
6. Here is what Knicks president Phil Jackson told mutual friend Charley Rosen about Shumpert: "He’s one of my favorites, because he was simply (the Knicks’) best on-ball defender at the shooting guard position and against bigger point guards."
7. As for Shumpert on offense, Phil Jackson again: "Iman is an excellent driver, but his shooting mechanics are very inconsistent. Sometimes he jumps too high to release his shot and sometimes he doesn’t jump high enough. As a result, he never shoots the same shot twice."
8. Jackson also told Rosen this about Cavs guard J.R. Smith: "J.R. has to learn the difference between a good shot and a bad shot. He has to trust the offense … and to avoid searching for his own shot. His defense also needs work because he tends to be a ball-watcher, and he’s late chasing his man around screens when he should be tailgating him."
9. It may have seemed like I took a shot at Wiggins earlier, and that’s not the case. I think he’ll be a great pro. I also think he’d average 7 points per game on a competitive team this season. Let’s face it, anyone can score 15.2 points a night for the Timberwolves.
10. When it comes to the Cavs, I’d still take Kevin Love on this team any day of the week and twice on Sunday. They’d be getting DESTROYED on the boards if they still had Wiggins and Anthony Bennett. Absolutely creamed. But I do think Wiggins will be an All-Star someday. Not an all-time great by any stretch, but an All-Star. Now, Bucks rookie Jabari Parker … when he’s healthy, he’s gonna do some special things for a winning organization.