Breakdown of hot streak shows Cavs more than just Big Three
We all know that the Cavaliers can win a championship when the Big Three of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are healthy and at their best.
But as anyone can see during the current eight-game winning streak, this is more than a three-man team.
So what else is going well for the Cavs? Let's take a look.
1. Kyrie brings J.R. Smith to life.
Smith recently went on a three-game run of 24, 25 and 27 points. He's also increased his scoring average to a season-high 17.8 points in January. Not surprisingly, the increase in production coincides with Irving's return.
Smith doesn't need to put up 20-plus every game. He just needs the opponent to think he might. As we saw last season, and are seeing again this one, Smith plays his best when Irving is next to him in the backcourt. It makes sense, as Smith can play footloose and fancy free when he doesn't need to worry about whether he misses a shot.
2. David Blatt decided to start Tristan Thompson.
It's not easy to change your starting lineup when you're a coach. After all, you're the guy who set the starting lineup in the first place. And the last thing you want to do is tell yourself it isn't working the way you had hoped.
But Blatt adjusted when center Timofey Mozgov struggled -- inserting Thompson into the starting role and giving the team a smaller, yet more efficient lineup.
It couldn't have been easy. Blatt likes Thompson's energy off the bench and yes, really wants Mozgov to do well and be the starter. Mozgov may return to that role. The Cavs could sure use him rim protection at the beginning of games.
But for now, giving Thompson a test against opposing starters (he's passed) and Mozgov a chance to regain his confidence and return to form (he appears to be getting closer on both) is working well.
How well? The Cavs haven't lost since Blatt made the move.
3. The Shump and Delly factor.
Iman Shumpert clearly has the quickest hands in all the East -- maybe the entire land. It'd be hard to find another man who strips the basketball away from opponents at such a remarkable rate.
Matthew Dellavedova is every bit the determined defender he was last season -- and has turned into a consistent 3-point threat and intelligent passer to boot.
Both Shumpert and Dellavedova started in the Finals, and a simple eye test shows the experience benefited both. But now, they're coming off the bench, giving the Cavs even more power in reserve.
4. The Cavs have a real identity.
It's not often that you see a team with three true-blue stars be so willing to scrap. This is perhaps the lone way the injuries to Irving and Love last postseason have actually helped this team.
That's because the Cavs had to fight, scratch and claw just to get to the Finals. With James leading the way, they buckled down on defense, crashed the boards, and did all the little things that teams without a ton of talent have to do.
But now the Cavs' best talent has returned. And yet they are still playing the lunch-pail style of basketball that gave them a shot to win it all.
For opponents right now, that and a whole lot more is resulting in some bad news.