Enemy: Cleveland Cavaliers
3SOB Prediction: 55-27*
For6iven in Cleveland?
So, um, about those jerseys that Cavs fans torched a while back. They were just playing around. They didn’t really mean any of those nasty things they said back in the summer of 2010.
As you’ve probably heard, LeBron James has made his return to the franchise where his professional career started, his “hometown” team, the Cleveland Cavaliers. And, he brought a few friends with him. Enter: Mike Miller and Shawn Marion. Oh, and he was the impetus for the biggest trade of the off-season, too. Enter: Kevin Love.
It was almost enough to make a hardcore NBA fan forget about the hiring of long-time international coach, David Blatt, and the hefty raise given to the team’s “other” #1 overall pick (since the other two were sent packing to Minnesota), Kyrie Irving. Yet, it is there we must start — not with the “Return of the King”.
Why start with the less sexy facet of this team? Because that is what will determine this franchise’s level of success this season. We know what LeBron will do: Everything and then some more. We have an idea of what a motivated Kevin Love will do, given that he is both in a contract year and looking to prove his detractors wrong. (Side note: We might see a 40-rebound game from him this year. Remember I said that.) Miller, Marion, Varejao — these are all known commodities for the more-than-casual hoops head.
Kyrie Irving — Is he simply a great player who makes highlights on a bad (make that very bad) team? Or can he harness his talent and become the third member of yet another “Big Three”?
David Blatt — Will his reputation of being an unquestioned success continue now that he is coaching at the highest level of basketball competition? Will he be able to massage egos and mould this talented cast into the championship-level contender that many, if not most, have already bestowed upon it?
Dan Gilbert’s kid, Nick — Is there any hope for him now? (Wait…that’s a preview for a different article.)
In less than two months, the Cleveland Cavaliers have gone from one of the worst teams in the NBA to the odds-on favorite to win the Eastern Conference, if not the NBA Finals. Not even a fairy tale could approximate that turn of events without a young child squinting up at you with a fair amount of doubt in their eyes. Yet, here we are. Kyrie, LeBron, Love, and a supporting cast that *could* find themselves playing deep into the post-season.
What are they cooking with?
LeBron James. That’s really all I have to say about him. His name alone should suffice. He’s the best player on the planet. Period.
Kevin Love. There is plenty more to say about them, but smarter guys than me (like Matt Moore) have already talked about what his failure to make the playoffs means. Guys not smarter than me, but infinitely more well-known and popular (like Bill Simmons) have discussed how we, the basketball viewing community, should view him. Here’s my take on the almost-Grizzly: He’s a natural rebounder with an innate knack for finding the ball, a gifted outlet passer, and one of the most complete offensive players in the game today. We’ll find out this year and going forward if he’s a winner or just a stat stuffer.
Kyrie Irving. He’s been thrust into a leadership role that he admits being ill-suited for. With LBJ in town, that’s no longer a concern. What might be a concern is how a high-usage (8th highest in the league last year) point guard will coalesce with an other-wordly teammate who had the 5th highest usage rate. For those scoring at home, Love had the 9th highest usage rate. It’s the LeBron/Wade/Bosh question all over again, but without the Batman/Robin undertones.
The additions of Mike Miller, James Jones, and Shawn Marion (and likely Ray Allen once training camp is over with) bring leadership and experience to a team full of young players who haven’t seen a lot of success. Expect Blatt to rely on these savvy veterans early in the season, as well as in the playoffs. Jones and Miller’s spot-up shooting and Marion’s continued ability to guard nearly every position make them invaluable pieces for any contender.
Tristan Thompson is one of the most intriguing players on this roster. He averaged close to a double-double last year, but will certainly see a cut in minutes this season with the arrival of Love. Or will he? I could see Blatt using some creative lineups that include a frontcourt of LBJ, Love, and Thompson. He doesn’t have any range on his shot yet, but playing with those two could see him get any number of easy buckets on cuts to the basket.
Dion Waiters is another player that seems to have a lot of upside, even if most fans still aren’t sure what to make of him yet. We mentioned the spot-up shooting of Miller and Jones above, but Waiters has the potential to be a legitimate fourth scoring option on this team similar to what the Spurs saw two years ago with Danny Green in the playoffs.
This roster is very talented with a nice mix of youth and experience, shooting and athleticism, motivation and resolve. I expect them to win a title together…but not this year. The lofty expectations will create a lot of pressure for some guys who are accustomed to toiling in the lottery, so this will be another animal for them altogether. Wait ’til next year, Clevelanders.
How do the good guys stack up?
The Vibe Behind Enemy Lines
To venture into the psyche of those who hold the Cavs near and dear, we linked up with our good friend Robert Attenweiler of Cavs: The Blog, who you may remember for his guest contribution to our series last summer. When pressed with how the new/old-look Cavs match up with our Grizzlies this season, he had the following to say.
Robert Attenweiler: I know, I know… after the Summer of Love (and that LeBron guy) you’re expecting Mr. Cavs Guy to be all “No way do the Grizzlies even register because the Cavs are never losing a single game again ever. Do I mean ever? Do I ever!” But, while such world-beater bragging may not prove to be entirely without basis, the Grizz actually loom as one of the less favorable match-ups for these Cleveland Cavaliers. What we know this new Cavs team of LeBron, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love should do well covers only one half of the court. They should be able to rack up points with the league’s best.
What we don’t know is how good they’ll be at getting stops. The most frequently pointed out weakness of these Cavs is their suspect interior D, so Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph (as always) will be difficult covers. Kevin Love, meanwhile, actually performed better than I expected against Memphis last year as the two teams split four games. Love went for 30/9, 28/16, 24/16/10, with his only subpar game (16/7) coming in a 17 point Wolves loss in Memphis. The only problem for the Cavs: you can put Randolph’s name and numbers in that statement and have it be just as true. If that match-up is a draw it puts more pressure on Irving, who has not had a ton of success playing against Mike Conley, and, of course, LeBron.
However, the key to the Cavs/Grizz match-ups could come down to new head coach David Blatt’s offense versus the Grizzlies’ always top tier defense. As we saw when he coached the Cavs in the Las Vegas Summer League this year, Blatt hates it when the ball stalls on offense. If he can keep his team sharing the ball like that when the real games start, it will go a long way when it’s time to face the Grit and Grind.
The Vibe at 3 Shades of Blue
Jonathan May: This will probably be another frustrating year for fans in Cleveland, as the Cavs had a quiet off-season which didn’t really address their primary needs. Wait. What? They added LeBron James and Kevin Love? And Mike Miller? Well that changes everything, of course. In all seriousness, Cleveland is the pre-season favorite to represent the still-weak-but-gaining-strength Eastern Conference in the 2014-2015 NBA Finals. Will it take them a little time to work it out? Of course. Will they figure it out in time to be the top-seed in the East? Maybe. Will they work it out in time to run over everyone they face in the first two rounds of the playoffs? Yeah. That will likely pit them against Chicago in the ECF this season, which should make for outstanding television. Of course, that assumes Chicago is healthy enough to get there and make a series of it, but I like their chances and that’s a topic for another day.
Of course defending this team starts and ends with how our wings handle LeBron. We’ve learned over the last 10+ years that you don’t stop him, but you make him work hard for what he’s going to get. You also try to limit how easily he gets his teammates involved. Having Kyrie and Love to dump the ball to makes it more difficult even than it was in Miami, as both of them are better today than Bosh or Wade were during their joint tenure in Miami. The bigs also have to be ready to play away from the basket with Love, which is not always an easy assignment for ZBo & Co.
The Grizzlies make their one visit to Cleveland (before the NBA Finals, that is) on December 21, 2014, which should be early enough in the season that Coach Blatt and the Cavs will still be working to form a consistent identity. Also, this Grizzlies squad has always brought their best against LeBron and whatever rag-tag team of All-Stars he’s put together, so I expect a focused effort from the boys in Beale Street Blue and a quality road victory. The Cavs then make the return visit to Memphis on March 25, 2015. If you like the Grizzlies’ effort against LeBron and Co. on the road, you’ll love it in FedExForum. I like the Grizzlies winning both games.
When Do They Square Off?
12/21/14 – Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, OH – 3:30 PM CST
3/25/15 — FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN – 7:00 PM CST
What Do Y’all Think?
Cast your vote below and reach out to the 3SOB Team on Twitter to discuss more on the matchup!
*3SOB win projections made prior to the completion of Kevin Love trade