Going into their game against the Philadelphia 76ers, many considered the defending Eastern conference Cleveland Cavaliers old, slow and ready to cede their reign to the upstart Philadelphia 76ers, who had a promising young core of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Robert Covington.
Clearly, the Cavs had other ideas in sending a humble reminder to the Sixers on their homecourt in a 113-91 rout.
In front of one of the largest crowds in basketball-mad Philadelphia since the days of Julius Erving, the hype going into the matchup was LeBron James’ first game against young Sixers phenom in Simmons. Through their first 18 games, the Sixers averaged 109.5 points, shot 47 percent, had 26.4 assists, allowed 43 percent shooting while shooting 38 percent from three point range.
After their 22-point loss to Cleveland, Philadelphia scored 91 points, shot 38 percent, dished out only 15 assists, allowed the Cavs to shot 48 percent from the field and a icy-cold 11 percent from long-range.
Call it a bad night for the young bloods from Broad Street all you like, but also credit Cleveland’s improved attention and focus on the defensive end in their eight-game win streak.
After being ranked 29th in defensive efficiency to start the season, Cleveland has jumped all the way up to seventh during their streak. One can see that Cleveland is doing a much better job of defending the three-point line, weak-side help on pick and rolls and rotating towards the ball. Additionally, their on-ball pressure has also intensified, which had led them to turn their swarming defense into instate offense in the form of fast break points in transition.
Another area that has led to the Cavs turn around has been their production from the bench, which provided 57 points—second-best output of the season thanks to the likes of Kyle Korver (+25), Jeff Green (+25), Channing Frye (+23), Dwayne Wade (+21) and Iman Shumpert (+14), have all helped provide Cleveland with a solid second unit that can give the starters—especially LBJ—some much-needed rest.
During their eight-game win streak, Cleveland has averaged 112.0 points, held opponents to 101.5, shot 46 percent from the field , shot 36 percent while averaging 23.4 assists, since starting 5-7.
Despite the sudden departure of Derrick Rose from the team due to personal reasons, the unsung hero of the Cavs has been journeyman point guard Jose Calderon, who has provided a steady hand in helping Cleveland run their offense off of LeBron.
And speaking of The King, LeBron is on pace to have perhaps his best in recent memory.
During the streak, James has shot 48 percent from three-point range while averaging 27.8 points, 7.8 assists, 9.8 rebounds and making 54 percent of his shots from the field. In what was a personal statement game for him, James scored 30 points, 14 rebounds and six assists in 31 minutes vs. Philadelphia.
If this is a taste of things to come for both LBJ and the surging Cavaliers—who still aren’t even at full strength yet with Isaiah Thomas and Tristan Thompson still out—then Cleveland is going to be a very dangerous and formidable team that no one wants to face.