April 16, 2014

Is the Cavaliers’ Win Streak a Mirage or the Start of Something Different?

cavs_nuggets13“Don’t call it a comeback, I’ve been here for years.” – LL Cool J

On Wednesday night, as the Cleveland Cavaliers were working on putting away the Denver Nuggets for the first win streak of the season, Cavs fans on Twitter began to rejoice. With good reason, too. After the miserable month of November for the Cavaliers, the team was coming off back-to-back home wins against playoff teams.

Perhaps some got a little carried away in their exuberance. Austin Carr called the win “the shot heard ‘round the league”. Others seemed to be channeling their inner Walter Sobchak in proclaiming “our f***ing troubles are over, Dude”. Of course, in the case of Walter and the Dude in The Big Lebowski, their troubles were actually really only just beginning. But what about the Cavaliers? What are we to make of their November troubles?

A two game win streak isn’t the kind of thing most teams celebrate. It’s certainly not something I expected to see Cavs fans celebrating in early December. But that’s the kind of season it has been. Predictable in its unpredictability. And amongst the mounting frustration and anguish of media, fans, coaches, and players, answers kept seemingly growing only in their elusiveness.

After the Cavaliers let a late lead in New Orleans slip away to the Pelicans, followed up by the San Antonio embarrassment the next night, there really seemed to be a sense that everything was slipping away. It was the moment the players had to unite as one and collectively take a hard look at themselves in the mirror. The fate of the season seemingly standing of the edge of a precipice, unclear which way it would go. Would the players give in and let everything fall off the edge?

Of course, a funny thing happened as rumors persisted of the season falling to its ultimate doom. The players found their resolve. With the Miami Heat coming into town, LeBron James and company seemed poised to drive the final death blow to the season. But the Cavaliers fought back. They resisted. They went toe to toe with the behemoth and even in defeat they gave the Heat everything they had.

Sure, they followed that up with a setback in Boston two nights later, but once again they refused to let that define them. Not yet, anyway. The Cavaliers came out the next two games and seemed determine to prove there was still life in this team…still a chance at returning to the playoffs.

Make no mistake, watching the effort and energy offered up the Cavaliers in 3 of the last 4 games has been a refreshing sight. Yet it’s so important to not get carried away. When things are going bad, it’s the easiest thing in the world to throw up your hands and say everything is ruined. And when things are going well, it’s the easiest thing in the world to say the team has finally discovered their stride.

Yet certain realities still exist. The Cavaliers are sill 27th in scoring and 28th in offensive efficiency (29th in eFG%). They are 19th in opponent scoring and 17th in defensive efficiency (15th in opponent eFG%). The Cavaliers haven’t proven anything yet, other than that they’re not completely willing to let this season get away from them. Yet there positive signs, too.

Andrew Bynum is getting better and better and able to play more and more as time goes on. Anderson Varejao slowly but surely has been shaking off his own rust. After all the drama of the players only meeting and Dion Waiters’ unfortunate timing of his illness, Dion seems to be settling into his role on the team. After a double-double drought after his early season hot start, Tristan Thompson has now recorded back-to-back double doubles. And even though he hasn’t rediscovered his early season form, just having CJ Miles back on the team is encouraging. All these positive signs despite the fact that Kyrie Irving still hasn’t found his shot this season, meaning there is still further room for things to get even better.

There will be further setbacks. The Cavaliers will surely play more atrocious games this year. The team still hasn’t shown an ability to come out and play well on the road. Thankfully December has just 6 road games compared to 8 home games. This is the stretch where the Cavaliers, despite playing some really good teams, can reclaim their season and get things back on track.

Rather than looking at this two game win streak as proof of anything, I prefer to look at is as evidence of something. It’s an important sign of life at a point in the season when it was needed the most. But it can’t end here. The Cavaliers can’t afford to keep having big letdown games on the road. The Cavaliers need to keep building, keep getting better, and keep improving their chemistry and their effort. And it’s important for fans to remember that, while we analyze these teams on a game-by-game basis, in the grand scheme of an entire season two games (or even four games) is just a minor moment in time.

Fans in Cleveland are growing increasingly exhausted with talking about “process”, but if the Cavaliers are going to get better this year, everyone needs to embrace just that. It’s unlikely that things just get better overnight with a snap of the fingers. But nobody should blame the fans for rejoicing and celebrating this small victory. November was an awful month for everyone. The last two games provided some relief and demonstration that we weren’t all completely wrong. This team is capable of playing pretty decent basketball and capable of beating good teams. As long as they keep improving, all of this celebration and slight overreaction will all be worth it.

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(Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)

  • cmm13

    Two things not discussed enough with this team:

    1. We play well when Bynum contributes. This was supposed to be a non-factor this year. Bynum was a low risk, high reward signing that if he saw the floor by January we would all be happy. What would this team look like without him contributing at all? Obviously Varejao has rust and T2 continues to find his “upside” but the lack of big men will need addressed.

    2. We couldn’t have had a rougher schedule to start this year with a team coming together under a new coach, new system and new players. 18 total games, 10 on the road and had to see powerhouses like Indiana, Miami, San Antonio, Denver and Minnesota.

    I think December will be a telling month with this team; 12 games total and only 5 on the road.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    LL after two wins? Welcome to Cleveland!

    That being said it’s nice to see Thompson finally reward me for picking him up on a couple fantasy teams. I want more, I want more!

    This team has entirely to much talent to have played as bad as it had hopefully with time and despite Mike Brown they can continue to improve. The East isn’t exactly great which is fortunate.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Great point about the schedule.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Great point about the schedule.

  • mgbode

    ummm, Minny is a 9-10 team coming off a 31win season. powerhouse?

    and, our December schedule ‘on paper’ is tougher than our November schedule. LAC, Indiana, Miami, Portland, Golden State even the current 3seed in the East Atlanta (hehe…10-10 is the 3seed, gotta love it).

  • mgbode

    any major reaction to this team before January is knee-jerk, but that’s what makes sports fun. hopefully, they start coming into better form and stay healthy. if they can do that, then even homecourt in the 1st round isn’t out of the question. Welcome to the ’13/14 NBA Eastern Conference!

  • CB Everett

    Dude, maybe our fn troubles are finally over? The Bynum really ties the floor together…

  • Backwoods

    Were people worried that they wouldn’t win any more games?

    I would hope when they run into a reeling bulls team, then get 3-4 days rest and play a Denver team that had played 5 games in 8 nights that they would have an advantage.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Andrew Schnitkey

    Absolutely. That’s the best thing about the East this year. As bad as the Cavs have been, they haven’t cost themselves anything yet. And I still think at some point Kyrie will start making shots on a more consistent basis, and when he does, it will change a lot about this team.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Andrew Schnitkey

    In my circle of friends, the LL line is used tongue-in-cheek. That’s how it was intended here as well.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Andrew Schnitkey

    “Oh yeah, how’d the season go?”

    “Not bad. Dude’s shot got a little dinged up, though.”

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    It’s all good fella.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Andrew Schnitkey

    You would hope so, yes. But previously this season the team rarely did things we hoped they would do. Hence, it’s refreshing to see them actually take care of business.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Andrew Schnitkey

    I think the biggest factor was not the quality of teams played, but that so many were on the road. It’s crazy to go the entire first month of the season without once playing back-to-back home games.

  • mgbode

    that’s a fair point.

  • cmm13

    Minnesota’s 9-10 record is not reflective of their offensive scoring power; they are a +4.05 in MAR and ranked in Hollinger’s top 10.
    Plus if you watched that game they ran rough shot over us on both ends of the floor.

    So yeah, “powerhouse” may not be the term for them but they for a team that is supposed to be built on defense as we are, they smoked us.

  • Shawn Philpot

    I don’t get it…

    We continue to crucify Mike Brown for his apparent lack of offense and use the team’s early output as evidence. So, the Cavs start making shots, but Mike Brown’s offense still sucks?

    So which one is it? Did Mike change the game plan? Or did the team actually start running the offense as designed? What I see is that when Kyrie, Jarrett, and Dion pass to the open man instead of endlessly dribbling the ball from one side of the court to the other the team look fluid. And lets not underestimate that they finally discovered that we have a All-Star center. I highly doubt that Mike tells Kyrie to forget about Andrew Bynum and just dribble until he finds the most difficult shot on the floor and shoot it.

    It’s become kind of lazy and say Mike Brown isn’t doing the job when the players are looking like they are buying in after seeing that running the offense their way wasn’t going to work.

  • mgbode

    yes, they smoked us and they are a nice offensive team that will likely settle in just outside the western playoff picture.

    as far as “built on defense,” I am still trying to figure out what to expect on that end this year. certainly better than what has been done thus far, but we are fitting a bunch of offense-only players into a defensive identity. of our corps, only Andy and Bynum would be considered plus-defenders (and not yet for Bynum – at least not consistently yet until he trusts his knees).

  • eldaveablo

    Nailed it. And personally, I think the discovery of how to pass into the post to Bynum is the light that came on. Having that Big in the middle makes everything else easier, and the perimeter guys are starting to understand that.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Andrew Schnitkey

    Is this comment directed at this article? Because it doesn’t mention Mike Brown at all. If anything, if you read between the lines, it’s saying many of the same things you are….players buying in, etc.

  • Yup

    We may want to pretend it doesn’t mean anything but this us still the second youngest team in the WHOLE league, not just the East. Patience with the process is a must…

  • Shawn Philpot

    It’s not directly at you, Andrew. It’s more directed at the sentiment of some of your readers and a lot in the media. I actually see a lot of improvement that hasn’t translated into wins just yet because it hasn’t consistently occurred over 4 periods. This month will tell us a lot about the Cavs.

  • Shawn Philpot

    It’s not directly at you, Andrew. It’s more directed at the sentiment of some of your readers and a lot in the media. I actually see a lot of improvement that hasn’t translated into wins just yet because it hasn’t consistently occurred over 4 periods. This month will tell us a lot about the Cavs.

  • woofersus

    I think there has been a bit of a case of unrealistic expectations thus far. For one thing, a very different style of play (defense) was never going to click overnight. Besides learning the system, our young players are going to get better at playing great defense over time. I remember a time when people were saying Lebron might never be known for being a great defender…. For another, Bynum and Varejao both hadn’t played ball in a pretty long time. Next you have the sheer number of new players (Bynum, Jack, Clark, Dellevedova, Bennett, Karesev, Sims, Felix – seven out of 15!) which never makes for a smooth beginning. And finally, I think there’s a misconception that young players come back from the offseason having learned vast new skill sets and wow you in the first couple of weeks. In reality, most of their progress at actually playing the game (i.e. things other than conditioning and shooting uncontested shots) tends to happen during the season.

    A slow start is not surprising, and neither is improvement as we go along. This is still a very young team after all, and player growth is not generally linear. They are already better record-wise than last year. I expect their winning percentage to improve from month to month through the season.

  • Letterman007

    I think last nights large loss to Atlanta shows it was a big mirage!! Kyrie scoreless for the entire game? What a joke this team is. Very little, if any chemistry on this sad excuse for a team. The Front Office and Mike Brown say it’s early yet and give it time. Time is running out on its early and they had better start thinking of plan B !!!