Getting Better

Chad W. Lutz
The Cleveland Cavaliers will not win the World Championship this year. This may be a bold statement, but it’s not one without warrant. Now more than a quarter of the way through the 2012 campaign and rapidly approaching the halfway point, the Cavs are about as likely to win the NBA title as Betty White is to die (she’s going to live forever). But what is surprising about this year’s NBA season for the Wine and Gold is the play.

At 9-13, the Cavaliers, who retained most of their players in the offseason, appear to have something that was sinisterly lacking from last year’s team: energy. Led by freshman stand-out and most likely to become NBA Rookie of the Year, Kyrie Irving, the Cavs are making a statement outhustling opponents for loose balls, crashing the boards, and making buckets when they matter most. Already this year, Cleveland has taken Boston, Dallas, and Indiana to the final seconds in four games and come away with two wins. What’s impressive is the game against Indiana would have gone the Cavaliers way if not for a botched layup with time running out. Mishaps aside, Cleveland looks like the polar opposite of the team we almost threw up in our mouths over last year.
Rookie Kyrie Irving Puts In The Game Winning Bucket Over The Celtics 1/29/2012
Steve Babineau/NBAE/GettyImages
And it isn’t just our imagination. Cleveland is getting it done on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. Although one of the worst offenders in turnovers-per-game (16.41), the Cavs rank 13th in total rebounds-per-game (42.77) two spots behind the 2011 World Champion Dallas Mavericks and one slot behind Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic. On the offensive end, Cleveland is 18th in points-per-game. Compare those numbers to last season and it’s like a completely different team.

Cleveland is quick off the dribble, pesky around the perimeter, and has actually shown the ability to hang around good teams and close out. Kyrie Irving, who really needs to no introduction as the 19-year old has become somewhat of a household name in just 22 NBA games, spreads the defense and runs the point with authority. A healthy Anderson Varejao has been nothing but dominant on the boards and posted his first career 20-20 game last week versus Boston. Antawn Jamison still can’t seem to figure out how to shoot a basketball properly, but somehow the veteran has managed to score 15 points a game. Fourth overall draft pick, Tristan Thompson, has also made his presence felt on both the offensive and defensive ends, but hasn’t stayed healthy long enough to really flourish and demonstrate his talents.
Anderson Varejao Slams It Home Against the Visiting Knicks At The Q 1/25/2012
David Liam Kyle/NBAE/Getty Images
What’s probably most impressive about the Cavaliers is the bench. Alonzo Gee, Samardo Samuels, Ramon Sessions and Daniel Gibson lead one of the highest scoring benches in the game. Last year we all basically held our breath as soon as our starters sat (let’s be honest, we held our breath all-game, every game). But this year we don’t have to. Byron Scott, although somewhat unorthodox, seems to have a rotation in place that allows for our starters to get the rest they need and still provides the scoring necessary to keep games close (or at least less humiliating).

The team is growing. We might be sick of the perennial state of rebuild Cleveland teams seem relentlessly stuck in, but the Cavs show signs of promise that has many critics and analysts showering them with unexpected praise, and even hype. While it’s painfully clear the Cavaliers won’t win the NBA Championship this season, especially with dismal performances like 39-point and 27-point losses to the Bulls and Hawks in late January, a convincing win over the Celtics on January 29 and Saturday’s 91-88 victory over the defending World Champion Dallas Mavericks could indicate a playoff run not too far in the team’s distant future.