At 33-12 and sitting atop the Eastern Conference, the Cleveland Cavaliers don’t exactly look like a team which should be concerned about their place in the NBA. Sure, there was the whole “firing their coach despite being in first place and coming off a trip the Finals” thing. Other than that, the Cavs appear to be in a good spot, at least at surface level.
As we know, though, Cleveland’s season has been a little more complicated than their record indicates.
Beyond firing coach David Blatt last week, recent reports paint the Cavs’ locker room as a pretty disjointed scene. Players have appeared to be grumpy or unhappy more often than not, and they have yet to consistently look like a team ready to make a deep playoff run.
One of the biggest concerns regarding this year’s Cavs, however, is their record against the NBA’s elite. Though Cleveland has strong wins against teams like the Toronto Raptors and Oklahoma City Thunder, it’s a different story when considering games against the top two teams in the league – the San Antonio Spurs and the Golden State Warriors.
The Cavs were swept in their regular season series with Golden State, which included one of their most pathetic showings of the year a couple weeks ago. Likewise, while Cleveland appeared to have the Spurs on the ropes in a game earlier this month, the team eventually derailed and lost convincingly.
Obviously, regular season games aren’t nearly as important as those in the playoffs. If the Cavs make another Finals appearance, their sloppy losses in January will be all but forgotten.
That said, Cleveland needs to make a statement to the rest of the league that it’s a team to be reckoned with. All we’ve seen from the Cavs this year is a dysfunctional-at-times group of players with convincing wins against lesser competition. So, if they want to prove to the rest of the NBA that they should be taken seriously, tonight’s home game against the Spurs certainly seems like their last chance to do so.
At 39-7, San Antonio is no joke. Though forward Tim Duncan has been ruled out for the game, the Spurs are still a top-tier challenge for Cleveland.
Knowing this, it’d be a shock if the Cavs didn’t have this game circled on their calendars, especially after their first bout with San Antonio proved to be unsuccessful. That said, the last time Cleveland had a marquee matchup players claimed they were looking forward to, it was the Golden State disaster.
While finishing the year 1-3 against the Spurs and Warriors wouldn’t be worth writing home about, it would still look a lot better than 0-4. A win tonight would also erase a little bit of the doubt hovering over the Cavs, as many see them as a team that just isn’t ready to take down top competition yet.
For what it’s worth, Cleveland does appear to be trending in the right direction heading into to tonight.
Though new coach Tyronn Lue’s fast-paced offense got off to a rough start last weekend, the Cavs have started to click as of late. The team appears to be significantly improved offensively, especially in last night’s win over the Detroit Pistons. It was the first time all year in which Cleveland’s Big Three – LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving – had at least 20 points each.
However, the Pistons pale in comparison to San Antonio. While momentum from a three-game winning streak will certainly help the Cavs, they’ll still need a whole lot more if they want to take down the Spurs.
Will Cleveland lay another egg on their own court, forcing hometown fans to watch another bloodbath like they saw at the hands of Golden State? Will the Cavs once again get picked apart by a team with a near-flawless playing style? Will Love shrink in the spotlight of a major matchup like he has for most of the season?
We’re sure to find out tonight, when Cleveland gets its last chance to prove it’s a true title contender. In the long run, a victory wouldn’t guarantee anything more beyond another notch in the win column. However, this is a Cavs team which has been outclassed by the upper crust of the NBA all season, and it would certainly help change that narrative if they could pull off a victory against the Spurs.