GDHQNBA15_2pg-Cleveland Cavaliers

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EASTERN CONFERENCE CENTRAL DIVISION Cleveland A dark cloud has hung over the Cleveland Cavaliers franchise since LeBron James left for the Miami Heat as a free agent in 2010. Owner Dan Gilbert penned a infamous rant about how Cleveland was going to win a championship and Miami was not (things didn’t quite work out that way). The franchise was depressing and its fans were depressed as the Cavaliers coasted into the draft lottery every year. Even with Cleveland winning that draft lottery three out of four years, there was no sign of Cleveland becoming a contender anytime soon. Now, with LeBron’s return, the Cavaliers are in a much different state of mind. Not only has Cleveland brought James back into the fold, but they have now given him a much stronger supporting cast to work with than he had during his last stint with the Cavaliers. By trading the last two No. 1 overall picks Anthony Bennett (2013) Andrew Wiggins (2014) for Kevin Love, Cleveland now has built a championship roster. The only question is this: can the new players form a cohesive unit fast enough to win it all this season? Defense If there’s a counter-argument to be made to the idea that Cleveland is the favorite to win the championship this year, it’s that the Cavaliers are a bit short on truly great defenders. Point guard Kyrie Irving is particularly known as a player who has struggled on defense throughout his career so far. It’s tough to tell what the root cause of Irving’s struggles is. Irving should have both the athleticism and the talent to play well on defense, but he hasn’t delivered results so far. It’s possible that Irving has simply been a victim of a poor culture in Cleveland. If that’s the case, then there are no more excuses—Irving should figure out how to play acceptable defense this year. Love, Cleveland’s second biggest acquisition, also has a reputation as being a poor defender. In Love’s case, the data is more conflicted. Advanced metrics like ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus actually cite Love as a strong defensive player, but scouts and people who watch the game insist that Love is poor at rotations and help defense. Love has also been criticized for often leaving defensive position to go for rebounds, a habit that helps his stat sheet but doesn’t necessarily help his team. Then there’s LeBron James, who is an outstanding defender when he’s engaged. However, James let his defense slide last year, in an attempt to preserve his body and his energy for a playoff run with Miami. Those tactics worked to a certain extent, as James was excellent in the playoffs once again, but it did mean that the Heat took a step backward in the regular season. On this Cleveland team, James is the only plus defender in the starting lineup. Cleveland will probably have to choose between either giving James a heavy workload, or reducing his minutes and asking him to be engaged on defense. Center Anderson Varejao is an injury-prone player who can rebound extremely well, but he gets bullied in the post at times and can struggle against opponents with a good low-post game due to his relatively undersized 6-10 stature. Shooting guard Dion Waiters has adopted some of Irving’s bad habits, often slacking on defense and focusing strictly on his offensive game. The biggest challenge for everybody on this Cleveland team will be to come together as a unit and work together under new head coach David Blatt. The potential is there for the Cavaliers to be a strong defensive team, but it will be a work in progress throughout the season. Offense As much as learning how to play team defense will be a challenge for the Cavaliers, scoring points should come about as naturally as it has for any team in NBA history. Among LeBron James, Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving, the Cavaliers boast three genuine superstars as offensive players, and three players who should mesh together extremely well. James is one of the few players in the NBA who can not only be LeBron James Joe Murphy/NBAE/Getty Images


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