TORONTO – After losing to the East-leading Toronto Raptors by 17 points two weeks ago, the Cleveland Cavaliers repaid the favor in getting more defensive in beating them by 14, 105-91 Saturday, extending their season-high win streak to six.
Remember when the season started and Cleveland started off 5-7? From fans, talking heads on the “Worldwide Leader in Hype and all things SEC” to to so-called “experts” many were read to label the new “Big Three” as a colossal bust, with Love bolting back to the West Coast and The King opting out, breaking Cleveland’s heart once again.
With the season close to a quarter of the way over, it’s safe to say that experts known nothing when it comes to understanding team chemistry, and pre-judging a team still learning to find it’s way.
In one of the most impressive 180’s in recent memory, a team already loaded with three All-Stars in Kyrie Irving, LeBron James and Kevin Love that played suspect defense, appears to be figuring things out at the right time.
In what has become a noticeable trend, the Cleveland Cavaliers have put the clamps on opponents, forcing turnovers and renewed their intensity on defense. For the season, Cleveland has allowed 98.7 points per game, 11th in the NBA. During their six-game win streak, which includes wins over three playoff teams in Washington, Toronto and Indiana, the Cavaliers have allowed 90.6 points, forced 14.5 turnovers and teams to shoot 42.2 percent from the field.
According to Basketball-Reference.com, the Cavaliers have one of the better rebounding tandems in forwards Tristan Thompson and Love both being ranked seventh in offensive rebounds (58) and defensive rebounds (144) respectively.
Love also ranks just outside the top ten at 11th in total rebounds with 176.
In what also appears to be a catalyst in Cleveland’s turnaround is James taking over the primary ball-handling responsibilities, as he ranks fifth in assists with 143. With James acting as the “point forward” and playing more like a point guard, Irving has become more dangerous in playing off of it as a off-two guard, with veteran swingman Shawn Marion playing more down low at small forward.
Thanks to these new wrinkles in their offense, Cleveland has been able to use their defense as an offense to run out in transition and space the floor better for easier, high-percentage shots.
In what appears to be the Cavaliers beginning to play up to their true potential, if Cleveland continues to play the way they are now, they will soon become the title-contending team that everyone expected.
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