City Sports Report

Recent acquisitions have Lebron and the Cavs on the right track

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By Carey Wood

On a night where Lebron James didn’t play due to injury, he was able to watch his teammate Kyrie Irving score 55 points, including the game winner in a 99-94 Cleveland Cavaliers win over the Portland Trail Blazers. It’s becoming more and more apparent that the Cleveland Cavaliers are getting on the right track. This is music to the ears of Cavaliers fans, because after a slower-than expected start to the season and key injuries to Lebron, and Anderson Varejao, who is out for the season, the chatter about this team quickly turned from how many titles can the ‘Big 3′ of Lebron, Kyrie, and Kevin Love win to can this team survive the season without killing each other?

As rumors of discord in the locker room began to spread, the level of play on the court continued to diminish. The losses of Varejao and James to injury made matters worse. The Cavs lost 10 of 12 games overall, and six in a row at one point between Christmas and the second week of the New Year. It was clear that changes needed to be made, and the Cavaliers front office wasted no time.

While still in the midst of the slump, the Cavs traded former first-round pick and reportedly disgruntled shooting guard Dion Waiters for Iman Shumpert, and J.R. Smith in a three-team deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder and New York Knicks. The move seemed to help cool things off in the locker room, and as soon as Lebron could get back, it would also help the chemistry on the court.

Smith is a guy who has never seen a shot he doesn’t like. But, when he’s on, the range of his jumper can be a good complement to Lebron. As usual, Smith has been streaky at best. But defenses have to honor him. Placing three-point shooters around Lebron was a huge ingredient in helping the Miami Heat win back-to-back titles, and having a shot at the three-peat.

Shumpert, isn’t a huge offensive threat and has battled injuries of his own. However, when healthy, he’s one of the better wing defenders around.

Defense and rebounding is something the Cavs sorely needed. Another player the Cavs recently acquired is taking care of both of those areas. That player is center Timofey Mozgov.

Acquired in a trade from the Denver Nuggets, Mozgov has been huge for head coach David Blatt. When Varejao went down to injury, the void it left on the interior was enormous. An already shaky defense was even worse without any rim protection to speak of. Tristan Thompson, who is the player Blatt turned to as Varejao’s replacement, is adequate but still struggles with consistency, especially when he’s been counted on to be ‘The Guy’. In comes Mozgov to the rescue.

Mozgov’s averages 10 points and 9 rebounds per game during the Cavs current seven-game winning streak aren’t exactly eye-popping, but they don’t have to be when you have the likes of  the Cavs Big 3, who are capable of scoring in bunches. His presence inside has been invaluable. He’s also been a big help to Thompson, who seems to be a lot more comfortable in a role coming off the bench. Plus, he helps to hide Love, who struggles defensively.

With Lebron back in the lineup, and with added rim protection and rebounding from Mozgov, the Cavs defense has improved greatly. What was a few weeks ago one of the worst defenses in the NBA, has become quite adequate. They’ve held their last six opponents under 100 points.

There has been a lot of doubt about exactly how good this team could be, and whether or not Lebron made a mistake in going back to Cleveland. It’s still way too early to make that determination. Personally, I still feel he did the right thing. Now, with some added pieces, things seem to be coming together for LeBron and the Cavs. That’s not good news for the rest of the Eastern Conference, as we inch closer and closer to playoff time.

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