Sunday, November 9, 2014

Actually, Cleveland Starting 2-3 Matters

So the story, assuming you want to tell any story about the NBA in the first two weeks of the season that isn't entirely injury related, is how LeBron James and the Cavs are 2-3, and whether this matters.

On the face of it, it's ridiculous. The NBA regular season is 82 games long. The Cavs have suffered no brutal injuries. Expecting a new coach with a new roster to be the nuts from the start is silly.

And yet... here are the games.

95-90 home loss to the Knicks (!)
114-108 road win against the Bulls
101-82 road loss to Portland (!)
102-100 road loss to Utah (!)
110-101 road win against the Nuggets

And more importantly, here's what's been happening on the court.

34.8% from the floor... 19.8% from the arc... 25th in the league in rebounding... 29th in the league in assists... James at 23 / 6 / 6, but the eye test just shows him under the rim for a frightening amount of his work... rumors of tension between James and cuckolded alpha dog Kyrie Irving... out of place "shooting" guard Dion Waiters furiously denying a fracas about staying in the locker room during the national anthem, and belching them up at 35% from the floor... Irving taking 36 (!) shots since his last assist, en route to a whopping 4.2 a game... Power forward Kevin Love slipping to an 18/11/2,

Now, the most likely thing to happen? The Cavs to run off a bunch of wins and make everyone think that the 2-3 start did not matter at all. On Monday they host New Orleans, then visit the Cavs, before hosting the Hawks and Nuggets. If they run off four in a row, to cap the road trip ending win in Denver, they'll be 6-3 in a conference where no team is going to run out and hide. They could literally stumble around for months without any real impact on their playoff seeding.

But what your eyes are telling you about this club? Nothing good. It all starts with James, who spent the off-season cutting weight with a presumably better diet, but just looks like he's lost power and hops without gaining anything in the bargain. I didn't like Love's prospects for fantasy starting this year, and absent a few long ball highlight reel lobs, he's playing to poor par. You always have to wonder about stat monsters from bad teams, and Love's tendencies towards giving up open jumpers to sell out for rebound position is becoming quite obvious over time. Irving has the roughest transition, and for all of James' declarations that everything is fine, a starting PG with 4 assists a game is not exactly ideal. I haven't been a fan of Waiters' game for a long while, and trade rumors are starting to dog him, as if he has any trade value in his third year with weak numbers. The bigs (Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao) have been OK, but if the best thing you can say about a club that was supposed to contend for the NBA Title is that the ordinary bigs have been ordinary... well, um, not so much.

The best thing to happen for Cleveland this year? The Eastern Conference. Chicago is still injury-prone. The best teams so far, Toronto and Washington, probably aren't for real. No team has come from nowhere to look scary or athletic. Indiana and Detroit are a combined 3-9, and Milwaukee's 3-4 isn't convincing anyone. If the Cavs were in the West, they'd be staring up a nice way at four teams that have combined to go 22-3, but that's life in the NBA's second conference.

But really, this all comes back to James. He's supposed to be the Association's best player, the unstoppable force, the superstar who makes life easier for his teammates on both ends of the floor, and the guy who can beat, or defend, anyone one on one.

That's not the guy who has showed up in the first five games. Or the guy who showed up in pre-season.

Maybe he's not that guy any more.

And if he's not...

Cleveland, and a lot of other places, are going to let you know about it.


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