Kyrie Irving close to playing again

kyrie-irvingThe Cleveland Cavaliers are off to a very solid start in 2016, currently leading the Eastern Conference with a 13-5 record. However, one can’t help but wonder if they’d be doing even better with All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving on the floor. And the good news is that he’s now much closer to returning to action.

Irving hasn’t played a game since breaking his left kneecap in the 2015 NBA Finals. But he’s now practicing with the Cavaliers again and told the media that he should be suiting up in the near future. As for exactly when he’ll play a game, the 23-year-old isn’t offering up much.

”You’re not getting anything out of me,” he said half-jokingly. ”No percentages, no target dates, nothing. I’m feeling good. Personally, I’m in a great place just being able to be out here and practice with the guys, being able to go up and down and continuously, as well.”

Despite the good news that he’s practicing again, Irving has some work ahead of him to return to a high level.

“Today, there was a lot more up and down,” he explained, “being able to test my wind, being able to test my knee, going from offense to defense and translating and being able to get out in the fast break and being able to try my moves that I’ve been practicing, kind of knock off most of the rust I’ve had.”

If there’s been any solace about Irving missing almost 20 games for the Cavs this season, it’s that offseason acquisition Mo Williams has played very well in his place. The 12-year vet has averaged 14.5 PPG, 4.5 APG and 3.1 RPG. But it’s obvious that Cleveland would also love to have a 3-time All-Star back at the position.

kyrie-irving-2016-returnIrving certainly can’t wait either as he’s a fierce competitor. However, he also doesn’t want to step onto the court unless he’s fully ready to go.

”If I’m putting myself in a position to be out there and I’m 100 percent, then I’m going to go out there and I’m not going to take any extra days off or take a week off just because erring on the side of being cautious,” he said. ”Anything can happen at any given moment, and I still have no regrets from what I did last year, going out there, and even playing injured.”

Aside from getting Irving back, the Cavs would love to have shooting guard Iman Shumpert and center Timofey Mozgov as well. Shumpert broke his wrist in the offseason and has been sidelined ever since. Mozgov played in the early going, but he’s had trouble with the knee that was operated on in the offseason.

Considering that these are three key players who’ve been missing, it wouldn’t be a shock if Cleveland plays even better when everybody is healthy.

Not surprisingly, LeBron James and Kevin Love has been leading the way in the first part of the season. Love is averaging 19.2 PPG and 11.6 RPG while James is tallying 25.6 PPG, 7.8 RPG and 6.4 APG. Williams, J.R. Smith (10.3 PPG), Matthew Dellavedova (7.9 PPG, 5.6 APG) and Tristan Thompson (7.8 PPG, 10.3 RPG) are also having strong seasons. It’ll be interesting to see if Cleveland can finally put their core together and run away with the East.

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Cleveland Cavaliers Betting: LeBron James promises to come off Bench if needed

lebron-james-benchEven going back to his days as a teenage rookie, LeBron James has never come off the bench during his 11-year NBA career. However, King James volunteered to do so if that’s what his team needs to win. And he cited teammate Tristan Thompson’s willingness to do so as reason why he would also make the same sacrifice. Here’s a look at what he told reporters following today’s practice about the matter:

“Whatever benefits the team, I’m for. Tristan [Thompson] is the same. And the rest of the guys are starting to understand that. I think we’re getting it. I think we understand that, at the end of the day, not one individual has ever won a championship. It’s all about a team. For me, being the leader of the team, it doesn’t matter, whatever this team needs in order for us to win.

“I’ll come off the bench. I’m serious. I’ll come off the bench and, if it helps our team, that’s what it’s about. It’s about a team and how we all fit together, how the five guys on the court fit together, how the eight guys or 10 guys on the bench all help the guys that’s on the floor, and so on and so on. So, sacrifice is the biggest word in team sports, but it’s not about saying it. It’s about doing it. It’s about living it.”

lebron-james-bench-1Cleveland is on an 11-game winning streak right now, and James is averaging 26.2 points, 7.4 assists and 5.6 rebounds so far. So there’s not much chance that he’ll really be coming off the bench any time soon. However, his point is that he’s willing to do anything to ensure that the Cavs keep winning.

As alluded to before, center/power forward Thompson has needed to make a big sacrifice, vacating his starting spot in favor of 7-footer Timofey Mozgov. And so far, Thompson is still playing well in a reduced role. Veterans James Jones, Shawn Marion and Mike Miller have also seen their playing time fluctuate as head coach David Blatt tinkers the lineup to find the perfect combination.

Perfection is definitely a hard thing to come by in the NBA. However, it appears that the Cavs are getting closer after making new additions like Mozgov, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert. This new influx of defensive and scoring (Smith) talent puts Cleveland in a much better position to contend for a title now, which has been the goal ever since LeBron decided to come home.

Cleveland Cavaliers are winning, and J.R. Smith is the Reason why

jr-smith-cavaliersThe Cleveland Cavaliers are currently on a seven-game winning streak and one obvious reason why is LeBron James’ return from an injury two weeks ago. A less-stated reason why: J.R. Smith’s move from New York to Cleveland.

Since joining the Cavs 10 games ago, Smith has seen his production increase from 10.9 PPG and 40.2% shooting with the Knicks, to 15.2 PPG and 41.7% shooting with the Cavaliers. His three-point shooting (38.8%), free-throw shooting (81.8%) and steals (1.5) are also noticeably up with his new team.

Obviously the Cavs appreciate Smith and vice versa, so what’s the big change? For starters, he’s taking more shots from behind the arc, which has led to an improvement. He took 35.9% of his shots from three-point land in New York, but has increased that amount to 61.9% in Cleveland. The fact that Kevin Love is posting up and kicking it out to Smith on the wings has definitely helped his game recently.

A larger part of why the 10-year veteran is flourishing is that he no longer has the distraction of New York. In an interview with NBA.com, Smith discussed how NYC’s nightlife made his mind drift away from basketball a little too much. Here’s one excerpt from the interview:

jr-smith-cavaliers-1“I think this is the best situation for me, ’cause there’s nothing but basketball. There’s nothing you expect but basketball. There’s nothing, there’s no going out, there’s no late nights. There’s video games, basketball and basketball. So it’s a great thing, ’cause I go back to where I came from. When I grew up, I never, I wasn’t allowed to go out. I missed my prom because I went to an AAU tournament, and all that stuff. For me, it was basketball, basketball, basketball.

And then when I got in the situation where I was at an early age, it was more, alright, let me see what this life is about, as opposed to just keep going. So now, I get the chance to get back to my roots.”

Another point Smith made is that, due to going out so much in New York, he wasn’t getting enough rest. However, now that he’s in Cleveland and not dealing with a bunch of distractions, Smith believes that things are much better.

Considering that the Cavaliers are already loaded on offense with Kyrie Irving, James and Love, Smith should continue getting plenty of good looks throughout the rest of the season.

Now, the big question is if the Cavs can continue playing good defense. During the seven-game win streak, they’ve held opponents to 47.3% shooting – much better than the 53.3% shooting in the first seven games of January. Assuming they can keep this solid defense up, then their odds of winning the championship increase dramatically.

Cleveland Cavaliers Betting: Kevin Love not leaving

kevin-love-staying-clevelandAny illusions of the Cleveland Cavaliers and their new Big 3 dominating right out of the gate and trampling all opponents in the way have been disbanded. Does that mean they’re no longer capable of winning the NBA title this season? Absolutely not, but the slow start does show that Cleveland needs more time to gel together.

If you’re listening to NBA rumors, though, the team won’t have much time to gel with Kevin Love. Whispers have persisted that he’ll leave the Cavaliers at the end of the season, rather than sign a long-term deal with the team. Most of these rumors have him landing in Los Angeles (Lakers) since he’s from there. In any case, the idea that Love won’t be in Cleveland past the 2014-15 season continues to grow.

But there’s only one person who can truly decide where the 6’10” power forward is going, and that’s Love himself. During an appearance on the “Mike and Mike” show, Love made sure to point out that he has no plans of leaving the Lake Erie area:

“If I could end all the speculation now, I would. But people are going to continue to talk no matter what. I just want to continue getting better with this team long term. I’m a Cleveland Cavalier.”

Part of the speculation surrounding Love comes from the fact that he won’t commit to a deal now. However, we don’t expect this to happen because he’s only eligible for a smaller two-year deal. But if Love waits until the offseason, he can sign a five-year extension with the Cavs worth up to $107 million.

kevin-love-staying-cleveland-1Of course, this isn’t to say that it’s 100% guaranteed he’ll be in the wine and gold next season. A large part of what Love plans to do hinges on how the team performs. But if the latest results are any indication, he could very well be playing alongside Kyrie Iving and LeBron James years into the future.

The team is currently riding a 6-game winning streak, including tonight’s win over the first-place Toronto Raptors. Sure some of these wins have come against bottom-feeders like the Orlando Magic and Milwaukee Bucks. But there have also been victories over the Wizards, Pacers, Knicks and Raptors – all leaving Cleveland with a respectable 11-7 record right now

Perhaps just as important is that Love is playing much better and gelling with his teammates. Through the season’s first 12 games, he was only averaging 16.5 PPG and shooting 40% from the field. During the 6-game win streak, Love is scoring 22.0 PPG and shooting 62% from the field.

This could be the big difference in why Cleveland is doing so much better as of late. Before, their Big 3 scoring punch was missing a crucial element with Love bricking 60% of his shots. But as we’d expect from a two-time NBA second-teamer, he’s finally getting that shooting percentage up and knocking down 50% from beyond the arc during the streak.

The arrow is pointing up for Cleveland from here on out. So it’s not entirely unreasonable to think that they at least get to the NBA Championship game. And this should be more than enough to keep Love in a Cleveland uniform.

Don’t expect Cleveland Cavaliers to re-sign Luol Deng this Summer

luol-deng-clevelandFor once this year, the Cleveland Cavaliers are in an enviable position. After a season met with considerable disappointment, they grabbed the number-one overall pick for the second year in a row. Now, Cleveland has their choice between Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker, among several other talented potential top selections. That said, the need to sign versatile forward Luol Deng doesn’t seem very high in The Forest City.

According to Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal, the Cavaliers haven’t made much of an effort to bring Deng back. Here’s one excerpt from Lloyd’s article:

Yahoo Sports reported Thursday that the Cavs could increase their chances of retaining free agent Luol Deng should they hire Griffin to be their coach, but the Cavs tried trading Deng at the trade deadline three months ago and haven’t expressed much interest in bringing him back.

Why wouldn’t Cleveland want Deng?

luol-deng-cleveland-1Deng is a two-time NBA All-Star who’s averaged 16.0 PPG, 6.3 RPG and 1.0 SPG over his 9-year career. More importantly, Cleveland was a better team with Deng on the squad as they went 20-20 after the trade that brought him over from the Chicago Bulls. This is quite an accomplishment for a team that finished the season just 33-49, missing the playoffs in a weak Eastern Conference.

So why not do whatever it takes to bring a good all-around player like this back? For starters, Deng is going to command a lot of money in this summer’s free agent market. And while Cleveland has cap space to cover Deng’s salary demands, they’re more likely to hold out for another star.

After all, the former Bull has never been the type of player who carries a team and consistently takes the big shot. As we covered before, Deng can certainly make a team far better, as he did in Cleveland. But the Cavs already have very good players in Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters. What they’re looking for is another dynamic star to pair with Kyrie Irving.

Given that landing LeBron James is still a possibility, Cleveland may let Deng go without a fight and focus on developing their latest top pick and last year’s first selection, Anthony Bennett. Sure, this doesn’t exactly equate to a banner 2015 season, where Cleveland Cavaliers betting will be a hot trend. But it sets them up for years of future success, especially if they can sign Irving to an extension.

Deng won’t miss Cleveland

adrian-griffin-cavs-coaching-candidateIf the Cavs continue down the road of not paying Deng much attention, don’t expect the small forward to pine for fishing trips and long walks on Lake Erie. He went from a very competitive environment in Chicago last year to a more dysfunctional one in Cleveland.

Much of this stemmed from the lack of control that coach Mike Brown had over the team. Deng was rumored to have told a friend that players were taking their uniform tops off at halftime and threatening not to play, getting thrown out of practice, mouthing off to Brown, and generally not being held accountable. One perfect instance of the latter was when Waiters got kicked out of practice one day, then he got to play his normal amount of minutes the following game.

Taking all of this into account, Cleveland’s current search for a coach will include finding somebody who can control and demand respect from the team’s young talent. As Lloyd reported in the aforementioned article, Adrian Griffin (pictured above) was the first candidate interviewed. Griffin, who played nine years in the NBA, has spent time as an assistant for both Scott Skiles (Milwaukee Bucks) and Tom Thibodeau (Chicago Bulls).

Both Skiles and Thibodeau strongly endorse Griffin as a coach, and it’s possible that hiring him could interest Deng in coming back – provided this door isn’t already closed. Other candidates who’ll get interviews with the Cavs include Los Angeles Clippers assistant Tyronn Lue and ex-Memphis Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins.