The Cleveland Cavaliers, coming off a 4 game losing streak, entered last night’s battle with the Phoenix Suns only behind the Atlanta Hawks by 4 games for the last playoff spot. The Suns likewise are fighting for their playoff lives being 1 game out in the more competitive West. The disparity is clear between the two conferences when you then compare the two teams records after making those statements: Cavs 24-40 Suns 36-27. A 12 game difference in the win column. In the East the Suns would be in competition for the 3 seed.
Yet the Cavaliers pulled out a wire to wire win, never trailing in the game, though they came close a few times. The Cavs had seen this script play out twice in the last year or so where they had a large lead against the Suns and let it dwindle down and ended up losing. Last night the team was able to make key plays to keep that from happening again. Have the Cavs turned a corner with this win? Way to early in this up and down season but there are a few reasons to have hope:
Even though the team lost Anthony Bennett, the return of Anderson Varejao and the addition of Spencer Hawes gives the Cavs great depth in the front court, which includes Tristan Thompson and Tyler Zeller. Add that depth to a backcourt of Kyrie Irving, Jarrett Jack (who has shown flashes of playing better), Dion Waiters and Matthew Dellavedova and the Cavs have a set of 4 at guard as well. That only leaves the small forward position as a limited place of depth. Luol Deng plays heavy minutes but has aches and pains to go along with a tender Achilles tendon that could cause problems at anytime. Getting C.J. Miles back could provide some help there but Mike Brown seems to see him more as a shooting guard. Miles size, either at the 2 or 3, is preferable to using the 3 guard lineups with a combination of the 4 guards mentioned.
We covered in the past the struggle caused when roles aren’t defined. With all of those mentioned each has been able to slot perfectly in their roles. Hawes seems like the final piece as he plays his role well. He sets picks and pops to the 3 point line. From there he can hit the shot, pump fake and go, find cutters and generally facilitate the offense. Irving has accepted playing the off-guard role often in the offense. Even when a easy outlet pass comes to him he tends to give the ball back to Jack or Waiters to run the offense. This has allowed him to use his shooting off screens well. Jack, while still spotty, is doing a better job of facilitating and Waiters is able to run the second unit, lighting fire like he did last night with 8 straight points stretching between the 3rd and 4th quarters when the Suns tried to make a run.
Delly comes in as a defender and gets physical with whoever he is guarding. On offense he tends to make the safe, conservative play while every once and awhile getting to the rim or hitting a spot up three. Thompson has accepted his role as the garbage/rebound guy who plays with effort for the first team. With Varejao coming off the bench he replaces, or improves, on what Thompson gives the team and Zeller is a lesser but similar version of Hawes. Deng is attempting to find comfort in his role as a 3 point shooter or one on one player. In Chicago he was more comfortable as an off the ball cutter or in the post but neither of those have played well with the Cavs.
The Cavs looked good last night on both the offensive and defensive end after 3 full days off between games. The team rotated well on the defensive end and had good height on their jump shot. This seemed especially true for Deng whose mileage makes him more likely to break down. Last night Brown seemed to make sure to rotate players in more often then he generally does. This could of been due to the Suns pace but doing so in the future takes advantage of the team’s depth and allows players to stay fresher. The down side is players getting out of rhythm but Brown will need to learn to adjust to this.
Finally, after just mentioning Brown’s need to adjust, is the adjustments he has already made. He has played the 3 guard lineup less often in important situations, he has played Waiters and Irving together more often and has used Hawes differently then he ever has a big man. The other big adjustment has been on defense. Instead of being steadfast on his hard hedge defense he has adjusted both to his players and his opponents. He now mostly has his bigs laying off on the screen, to keep role men from getting into the lane. This has helped the Cavs from having to help too much off outside shooters and greatly improved their defense. Yet last night the hard hedge was back. Brown made this adjustment due to the shooting and driving quality of the Suns. Instead of allowing the Suns two dynamic point guards free release towards the rim and a flat footed big man, he made sure the big man stayed in touch with the guard. Learning to adjust to the players and the opponents is an important development for Brown.
What do you think of last nights game? Do you think the Cavs have/can turn the corner? Or just another game and Friday will be a deflator?