From the moment LeBron James announced his return in Sports Illustrated, expectations for the 2014-2015 Cleveland Cavaliers have been sky high (just ask the Vegas odds makers). However, James was well aware of the hard work necessary to win an NBA Championship. Sure, on paper, the Cavaliers appeared to have the pieces needed to contend for a title, and the addition of Kevin Love only enhanced their chances, but chemistry isn’t built in a night. And James stressed patience. But, as the season unfolds, it appears that patience is about to be tested like never before.
As if things haven’t been challenging enough for the Cavs, at 19-15 and without Anderson Varejao for the remainder of the year, now they must endure (a minimum) of two weeks without the King’s presence on the court. So far, it hasn’t been going well for the Cavaliers, losing three of four without James in the lineup, and currently losers of five of their last seven overall. However, the silver lining, amidst these difficult circumstances, is that the adversity could be exactly what this young team needs. It’s moments like these that build character, and the Cavs are going to need that if they ever hope to become a championship-caliber team. Time to see if they have what it takes.
With that said, here are four ways the Cavaliers can survive this unfortunate stretch.
1. Get Kevin Love more touches
Since the Cleveland Cavaliers became the newest “Big 3,” no one has had to sacrifice more of their game than Kevin Love. He was the clear number one option for a Minnesota Timberwolves team that wasn’t going anywhere, and now he’s number three on a Cavaliers team that’s still feeling it out. That can’t be easy on the perennial All-Star. Still, you have to feed Love the ball. The six-year pro is averaging a mere 13.0 field-goal attempts per game. That’s unacceptable. You brought him to Cleveland for a reason.
2. Pick up the pace
One of the things that made the Miami Heat so successful these past few years was that they pushed the tempo. They didn’t wait for defenses to get set, but rather dictated the pace of the game. These Cavaliers need to learn to do the same. Currently, they rank 26th in the league in this particular category. No one is questioning the offensive potential of this team. In fact, they’re rated the sixth-best offense in the league. But, if they stress pushing the pace, they will become a team that no one wants to play. Fact.
3. Attack the glass
It’s safe to say that the Cleveland Cavaliers lack an interior presence. And, given the loss of Anderson Varejao, it’s imperative that this team makes moves toward acquiring some bigger bodies. In the meantime, the Cavs have to do a better job on the glass. They’re averaging 41.1 rebounds a game, only good enough for 25th in the league. Yes, Kevin Love grabs around 10 a game, and Tristan Thompson is no slouch at 8.1 boards a contest. But, without the game’s best player, the Cavaliers need to pounce on the misses. If they don’t, there’s no way they’ll compete with the big boys.
4. Tighten up the ‘D’
Let’s face it, if the Cleveland Cavaliers don’t begin to improve their team defense, it won’t matter if LeBron James is on the floor or not. It was always believed that this team would eventually find they’re offensive groove, but there was much skepticism surrounding their ability to defend the bucket. Those fears have come to fruition, as the Cavs currently post a defensive rating of 107.8 (22nd out of 30 teams). LeBron James is one of the best two-way players in the NBA. He is capable of guarding every position on the floor, and there really is no way to replace his presence. However, given the talent on the roster, if the Cavaliers embrace their defensive roles, hang tough, and come together as a unit, they just might be able to hold down the fort until James returns.
The truth remains, the Cleveland Cavaliers will never be able to fully realize their identity with LeBron James sidelined. However, the East isn’t exactly a power conference, and the teams sits in the fifth spot at the moment (and second in the Central Division). And there are plenty of games left to be played. Still, coming together during this difficult stretch will go a long way toward strengthening this team’s resolve as the season progresses. A little adversity never hurt anyone.[