As they begin the stretch run in hopes of defending their crown, the 39-16 Cleveland Cavaliers have a lot of obstacles to overcome in hopes to repeating as champions.
Down two starters in All-Star power forward Kevin Love and shooting guard J.R. Smith, the bulk of Cleveland’s scoring and creative load will rest on the aging shoulders of LeBron James and Kyrie Irving.
With 15 of their final 27 games on the road including facing the likes of contenders such as hard-charging Boston, Western conference heavyweights such as Houston, San Antonio and the Los Angeles Clippers and crucial home dates against Indiana, Detroit, Utah and Toronto will make for an interesting two months for the Wine and Gold.
Below are three things to watch regarding the defending champions and whether or not they will repeat.
Will They Or Won’t They Make A Move By The Trade Deadline? After letting their $5.4 million trade exception, left over from the trades of Anderson Varejao and Jared Cunningham expire, the cash-strapped champions find themselves looking for bargain deals late in the game. Linked to the likes of Andrew Bogut, Deron Williams, Larry Sanders and other notable vets, Cleveland’s biggest needs of a backup point guard and big need to be addressed.
Unless they are confident in the development in rookie Kay Felder and think that they can win with just Tristan Thompson and Channing Frye, then the Cavaliers are taking on a hiuge gamble, that could backfire if they are not careful.
LeBron and Kyrie’s Minutes: In what has become common knowledge, the Cavs go as far as LBI and Uncle Drew take them. Among the NBA leaders in minutes played, the Cavs find themselves in a precarious position in trying to rest James and Irving with little depth behind them at their respective positions.
While LBJ has the likes of Kyle Korver and former No.2 overall pick Derrick Williams backing him up, Irving only has Felder. This is where the Cavs really miss Matthew Dellavedova right now.
Reintegrating J.R. Smith and Kevin Love During The Stretch Run: With shooting guard J.R. Smith expected to return in early March and Love out and estimated 4-6 weeks, the biggest challenge facing Tyrone Lue is how to reintegrate both players back into the starting lineup with very little games left and the playoffs right around the corner.
With James and Irving likely to see reduced minutes or games off and the added pressure of trying to maintain home-court advantage in the East, Lue will have to do his best juggling act this side of Barnum and Bailey in terms of juggling minutes and slowly working Love and Smith back in their normal roles come playoff time.