Wow, how fast things change within the week. Last Wednesday, in what will go down as a four-on-five battle against the Los Angeles Lakers, the Cleveland Cavaliers were the complete laughingstock of the NBA. It took coach Mike Brown to take out most of the starters and bring a struggling bench in to get the game within a manageable score. However, the Cavaliers still lost.
Ever since blowing the game against the Dallas Mavericks on MLK day, the Cavaliers had lacked any kind of effort and passion. Opposing players would drive into the lane with ease, arid shots were taken and it seemed as if the team checked out on Brown. They were losing games by 11.8 points on average, none worse than the massacre by the New York Knicks on national television.
It was a disaster and something had to be done. After the infamous Laker game, Chris Grant was fired. His trades looked great on paper, but the players acquired never produced as originally thought. His drafting was atrocious as well. The only player to show promise is Kyrie Iriving, and that was a no-brainer pick. A drastic change was needed, and it was made.
The firing of Grant has led to the Cavaliers winning their last four games — something they haven’t done since 2010 with LeBron James. They have won by a total of seven points and have a new attitude towards the game. One of the biggest changes was Irving playing off the ball at the two and Jarrett Jack starting at the one. Ironically, Irving is averaging two percentage points more at 21.7 PPG than his regular season average of 21.5 ppg.
Dion Waiters is playing like he did at the beginning of the year. He is averaging 18 PPG off the bench in the past four games and is playing better defensively. Luol Deng is showing signs of his Chicago Bulls days, however, it is obvious in some games that his ACL is still bothering him at times. Tristan Thompson brings it every night, but he is still a defensive liability, and his height is becoming more of an issue with taller four and fives.
Anderson Varejao has been the godsend as usual for the Cavaliers. He is the glue that keeps the team together with his energy and prowess. However, he just cannot shake the injury bug he has inherited the past few years. When he is on his game, he is one of the best four/fives in the league. That leaves Tyler Zeller. Zeller is more Hyde than Jekyll. In some games he looks like he’s figured out the NBA and in others he is a turnover machine and looks completely lost. His ceiling, at best, is a below average backup center.
However, one of the biggest positives throughout the turmoil has been Anthony Bennett. So far he has done a complete 180 compared to the beginning of the season. In his last four games, he is averaging 8.0 PPG. That trumps his season average of only 3.8 PPG. He still has a lot to improve and will still have growing pains, but any progress by the No. 1 overall pick is welcomed by Cavalier fans.
Bennett did a spin move in the post against the Sacramento Kings that would make Kobe Bryant do a double take. He has looked impressive. The most noticeable thing has been the fluidity of the offense. Brown is strictly a defensive coach, but the cuts and ball movement during this streak have been amazing. Irving has been able to make plays and get easier shots while also getting his teammates involved. Instead of worrying about what “plays” to run, he can just do what comes naturally to him and score the ball.
The winning streak has been great, but a lot of fans wish it came at a better time. The All-Star Weekend begins on Friday. This is the last game for the Cavaliers until next Tuesday against the Philadelphia 76ers. With a six-day layoff, fans hope the magic doesn’t wear off by then and that Irving doesn’t go into a second half slump after playing on Sunday.
The streak has been a breath of fresh air, but there are still faults with the team. Hopefully some are filled by the trade deadline or by continued better play.