Beating the Detroit Pistons in late January doesn’t make a team believe it can start getting measured for championship rings, but for LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, their 103-95 win Tuesday night does serve as a reminder to NBA fans everywhere that championship teams don’t come together in a couple of months.
That’s surely the message LeBron and the Cavaliers are sending to everybody around the NBA. They are riding a seven-game winning streak and they have beaten teams along the way a lot stronger than Detroit. The Cavaliers are now looking like the team Las Vegas odds-makers made the favorite to win the NBA title.
Yet preseason predictions mean little in the grind of a long season, and the NBA has enough quality teams – think Golden State Warriors, Memphis Grizzlies, San Antonio Spurs and Atlanta Hawks – that no fan should get overly giddy about how well the Cavaliers have played lately.
Their about-face is telling, however.
Not three weeks ago the team was unraveling like a spin of yarn. News reports had coach David Blatt’s head on a butcher’s block and online rumor after online rumor had the Cavaliers ready to trade Kevin Love, a reckless move that would have made the Andrew Wiggins deal look like a loss.
From three weeks ago until now, things have gone right in Cleveland. Blatt seems to have gotten people’s attention – his players’ attention, that is. And LeBron is healthy, which spells trouble for opponents; Kyrie Irving is playing well as the complement to LeBron; and as for Kevin Love … well, Love has found his happy spot in the team’s offensive scheme. He’s now looking like the All-Star power forward the Cavaliers and their faithful had thought they were getting for Wiggins.
In essence, the Cavaliers are back into the discussion about the best team in the league, and they are there for one reason: The team is playing hard for the first time under Coach Blatt.
“Playing with a little more intensity, a little more sense of urgency to start the games,” LeBron put it Tuesday in an article with Cleveland.com. “Everything is not going to always be perfect. But we can cover for one another when we’re playing hard. We’ve done that with a little more sustained (effort) than we did before.”
Maybe that’s it, really. The Cavaliers – all of ’em – stopped looking at the press clippings and decided they needed to play their way into title contention. They finally figured out that nobody was going to just lie down inside an arena and let them walk to a NBA championship.
It has helped their cause, too, that the organization understood it had flaws in its roster and went out and got J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Timofey Mozgov, a legit big man who can patrol the inside. Mozgov has completed the mosaic that many people said would be something spectacular.
Perhaps it’s not spectacular just yet, but what LeBron & Co. has become is a team worth people’s time to watch, and no one could say that about these Cavs when they were struggling to stay above .500.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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(Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images)