Predicting The Cleveland Cavaliers Final Five Games Of 2015

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Dec 20, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) celebrates with guard James Jones (1) and forward Tristan Thompson (13) during the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Following a home game against the New York Knicks, Dec. 23, the Cleveland Cavaliers will take a west-coast trip with a must-see matchup against Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors Christmas Day. Factory of Sadness writer Ben Belden previews and predicts the rest of the Cavs’ schedule for what’s left of 2015.

Kyrie Irving‘s season debut filled Quicken Loans Arena with electricity Sunday against the Philadelphia 76ers. Irving missed the first 24 games of the season after suffering a fractured kneecap in Game 1 of the NBA Finals and his return is the shot in the arm the Cavaliers need to end the 2015 calendar year on a high note, as the franchise pursues its first NBA title.

This calendar year was a whirlwind for the Cavaliers. Last spring, Cleveland was riding high entering the NBA Playoffs, but an injury to Kevin Love tempered that enthusiasm. After the Cavaliers bounced the Bulls in six games and swept the Atlanta Hawks, the franchise made its first trip to the NBA Finals since 2007.

After winning two of the first three games, Cleveland rejoiced, as it seemed that a Cavalier team that was without Love and Kyrie Irving had a chance to ride the back of LeBron James to an NBA Title. That rejoicing was quickly met with disappointment, as the Warriors adjusted and beat the Cavs in games 4, 5, and 6 and celebrated an NBA Finals victory at Quicken Loans Arena, in front of Cleveland fans who have been thirsty for a major sports title for far too long.

This season, the Cavaliers have had their ups and downs. David Blatt and company started the campaign with eight wins in the Cavs’ first nine games. But that quick start faded around Thanksgiving. The Cavaliers ended November with a 13-4 season record, but many were concerned with the demeanor of the team following some less-than-convincing victories against lesser teams.

As the 2015 calendar year draws to a close, the Cavaliers are playing  perhaps their best basketball of the year. After starting the month of December with three straight losses to the Wizards, Pelicans, and Heat, the Cavaliers are winners of five straight games and are playing with much more energy on both sides of the ball. Much of that energy comes from the recent returns of Irving and Iman Shumpert. Shumpert’s debut came December 11th in Orlando, and Irving made his debut Sunday afternoon in Cleveland.

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When Irving touched the ball for the first time since fracturing his kneecap last June in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, he was greeted with a hearty cheers from the home crowd. Irving started the game slow, missing his first five shots, but shook off the rust in the second half. In all, Irving totaled 12 points on 5-of-12 shooting in just over 17 minutes of work.

Irving’s return comes just in time for the Cavaliers, who face a difficult end to the month of December. Irving’s second game will come against the Knicks at Quicken Loans Arena on Wednesday, before the Cavaliers go on the road for four straight against he Warriors, Trail Blazers, Suns, and Nuggets to close out 2015.

Here is a complete preview of 2015’s remaining games:

Next: 12.23: New York Knicks