After getting the starters back, changing the line-up and playing the 7th easiest schedule in NBA so far, January will be a good time to see where the Cavs truly stand this season.
So far, Cleveland managed to pile up enough victories to lead the improving Eastern Conference. Considering the missing players, Mozgov coming back from an injury and Tristan Thompson joining only in the end of October – that’s quite good. However, the easy schedule played a big part in their success.
Now, all that is going to change. Drastically!
Cavs will go on 6 game road trip which includes few tough opponents, such as the Wizards, which is the only team that beat them at Q Arena, Spurs, Mavericks, Spurs and the Rockets. They will come back only on January 19th to play the Warriors, in a repetition of last year final. Then host the Bulls and the Clippers. Finally, will close the month again vs. the Spurs.
16 games in 28 days. 10 of them against top opponents.
So what needs to happen for David Blatt to coach the East in the Allstars?
- Setting the line-ups
With 2 starters back from injuries and the switch between Tristan and Mozgov, Cavs are a new team. So far the Cavs had almost a dozen different starting line-ups and that needs to change. David Blatt needs to find his permanent starters and second unit. Of course things will change according the opposition, but heed needs to have few permanent solutions.
- Ball Movement
For few quarters this year, Cavs played tremendous basketball. The ball was moving, tough defence enabled many fast break points. However, when things get rough, Cavs go back to slow isolation game play, which is quite hard to watch.
The ball movement is just not in this team’s DNA, yet. It was necessary last year with Love and Kyrie out and it will be used this year.
Of course, letting LeBron and Kyrie go 1 on 1 is not exactly a bad choice, but that should be Plan B. It will be enough to beat most of the teams and probably reach the finals, but definitely won’t work against the Spurs and the Warriors.
- Making Open Shots
The Cavaliers are 22nd in the league in making uncontested 3pt shots. Team that has JR, Kyrie, James Jones and Kevin Love, just can’t settle with those numbers. I guess the statistics will level with time, spreading the floor for LeBron and Kyrie’s penetrations. Otherwise, it’s going to be tough.
- Rim Protection
Cavs need Mozgov back. Yes, the league goes towards small ball and Tristan is a solid solution, but Cavs need a real rim protector.
Many underestimate the importance of Mozgov to Cavs last season second half run, but he was crucial. With Tristan the defence is much more versatile and fast to respond, but there is no safety net. You are punished for every minor mistake – proven by Lowry and DeRozan few days ago.
Cavs do not have the ability to give 48 minutes of intense defence. That’s why they need Mozgov top open the game and Tristan to wrap it up.
That’s pretty much it. Great games are ahead of us. The Cavs managed to put themselves in a solid position in the first half of the season, but now it’s time to get to work.
Of course there is still plenty of time and this team will be judged only in June, but January will show if they are on the right track.