Timofey Mozgov: The Unlikely Hero of the Cleveland Cavaliers

timofey-mozgov-cleveland-heroWhen Timofey Mozgov came over to the Cleveland Cavaliers from the Denver Nuggets, he was merely looked at as a good role player. In fact, the deal was heavily scrutinized because Cleveland gave up two first-round picks to obtain the 7’1″ big man. Nevertheless, a desperate Cavs team that was hovering around .500 in January made the deal in hopes of getting another piece to their championship contender.

Well, up to this point, Mozgov has been more than worth the deal by serving as the reliable, rim-protecting big man that Cleveland needed from the beginning. Paint protection is the key here because nobody on the Cavs roster fits the mold of a shot-blocking big man who can force tough shots inside. And before Mozgov came over from Denver, Cleveland was giving up 105.4 points per 100 possessions, which ranked eighth-worst in the league.

Mozgov may not be leading the league in blocks, but he is averaging 1.2 BPG and altering plenty of other shots. His inside defensive contributions certainly haven’t gone unnoticed either, especially by head coach David Blatt.

“Bringing Timo in was something we were looking at as early as this summer,” said Blatt, who first met Mozgov as coach of the Russian national team. “Because of my knowledge and experience with him, I knew he’d be a good fit for us — his pick-and-cut capability, size and ability to protect the rim.”

timofey-mozgov-cleveland-hero-1One look at the stats will show how much Cleveland has changed on the defensive end of the floor. This team is allowing 101 points per 100 possessions, which is over four points better than before the Russian big man. Furthermore, opposing teams are shooting just 48% in the paint against Mozgov.

Timofey has a simple explanation for his success in this department: “It’s real simple – as the big guy, you’re supposed to protect the rim.”

Cavaliers associate head coach Tyronn Lue had a little more analysis on the subject, citing how their defensive scheme is much better. “We’ve changed our defense since Timo got here,” said Tyronn Lue. “We now scheme around always having a big man near the basket. His weakside awareness has really surprised me. He’s so good at tagging cutters as they come through and reading pindowns and screen. He’s got an incredible basketball IQ.”

Lue added that the team was always looking to keep their center in the paint, rather than getting out on pick-and-rolls. And Mozgov made this transition much easier.

But the 7-footer isn’t just good at disrupting shots inside because Mozgov has also improved this team on offense, despite not being a great outside shooter and averaging a modest 10.6 PPG. “They call me a good roller, but I don’t know, I just do what I do,” he explained. “I don’t do anything special. You set a good screen, you’ll be open.”

Whatever Mozgov is doing, it’s helped his team out a lot. The Cavs are averaging 105.5 points per 100 possessions without Mozgov on the court, and 111.5 points when he is in the game. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that he’s shooting 58.7% as a member of the Cavaliers.

Now, with Cleveland having wrapped up the Eastern Conference’s second seed, the challenge for Mozgov will be entering his second-career playoff run. The first one with Denver didn’t last long, but the Cavaliers are expected to go much deeper, thanks to a trio of stars in LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.

And while Mozgov certainly won’t be mentioned in the same breath as these three, he, along with J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert, is definitely a very important addition who’ll help the Cavs immensely in the 2015 postseason.

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.

Andrew Wiggins Trade Rumors are just that for Now

andrew-wiggins-minnesota-tradeLast week, the biggest news surrounding the NBA was LeBron James’ return to Cleveland. This week, it’s been the constant back-and-forth speculation over whether Andrew Wiggins will remain a Cavalier when the season starts or be shipped to the Minnesota Timberwolves in a trade package for 3-time NBA All-Star Kevin Love.

Initially, new head coach David Blatt said that there was no way Wiggins would be included in any trade. “There’s no reason or cause for worry on his part because Andrew’s not going anywhere, as far as I know and as far as the club has expressed,” Blatt said.

More recently, though, it was thought that Cleveland had changed their tune after widespread reports emerged that the Cavs are willing to trade Wiggins for Love. These reports drew upon an article by Cleveland Morning Journal writer Bob Finnan, who wrote the following:

Up until this point, it was assumed the Cavs wanted to hang onto Wiggins, largely because of comments made by Coach David Blatt. However, a source said James wants the 6-10, 250-pound Love on the roster. And, what James wants, he normally gets.

The thinking is that Wiggins is going to be a very good player, a possible All-Star player, in time. But he’s raw. He’s a long way away from reaching that potential. Love is an All-Star caliber player now. The union of James, Kyrie Irving and Love could be a championship in the making.

kevin-love-minnesota-timberwolvesFinnan added that the full deal for Love could include Wiggins, Anthony Bennett and a first-round pick. However, it’s worth adding that until anything is made official, the sudden reversal on not trading Wiggins is straight from the rumor mill. In an Associated Press article written by Jon Krawcyznski, two league sources say that Cleveland’s refusal to include the 19-year-old in any deal stands. Here’s a look at an excerpt from Krawcyznski’s article:

But two people familiar with the situation told The Associated Press that the Cavaliers’ position has remained unchanged and that no offer including Wiggins has been made to Minnesota. The people requested anonymity because neither team was publicly commenting on trade talks.

“Rumors are rumors. That’s why they call them rumors,” Cavs coach David Blatt said. “Sooner or later in one’s career, you’re going to have to deal with it. If he has to deal with it now, then so be it. It’s summer league. He’s learning everything as he goes along.”

Original trade rumors had the Cavs offering Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson and a number one pick to Minnesota for Love. However, word had it that the Timberwolves countered by wanting Wiggins included in any potential deal.

andrew-wiggins-minnesota-trade-1Assuming what’s been said about Cleveland not wanting to trade Wiggins is true, it’s easy to see why. The Toronto native is currently having a good summer league, averaging 15.5 PPG, 3.5 RPG and 1.5 BPG in four contests so far. He’s also displayed some incredible athleticism on dunks and blocked shots, foreshadowing the dominating two-way player that he could one day become.

However, those who favor getting a Kevin Love deal done as quickly as possible point out that Wiggins is only shooting 40.2% from the field through four games. Furthermore, he may not be polished enough just yet to serve as an immediate star during LeBron’s unknown tenure in Cleveland.

By getting Love, the Cavs ensure that they’re an immediate favorite in the East and potentially to win the NBA Championship. The 6’10” power forward averaged 26.1 PPG, 12.5 RPG, 4.4 APG and shot 37.6% from the three-point line. Love is actually the only player in NBA history to average over 26 PPG, 12 RPG, 4 APG and make 190 three-pointers.

Given his versatility, Minnesota knows that they have a great asset for any team that wants to trade. However, their leverage in any kind of deal may be sliding because Love has announced that he won’t re-sign with the Timberwolves next summer. This leaves the team needing to get rid of Love by the mid-season trade deadline or take a chance on improving as a team and hoping that the star reconsiders his previous statement.

2014 NBA Finals Game 4 Betting: Heat must show some Fire

heat-spurs-game-7Few people predicted what would happen in Game 3 of the 2014 NBA Finals. The Miami Heat came out completely flat while allowing the San Antonio Spurs to shoot a Finals-record 86.7% in the first quarter. The Spurs would go on to rack up 71 first-half points on 75.8% shooting and cruise to a 111-92 victory on Miami’s home floor. Even head coach Greg Popovich admitted afterward, “I don’t think we’ll ever shoot 76 percent in a half again.”

Kawhi Leonard served as the catalyst behind this record, quickly scoring 13 points on 5-of-5 shooting to open the game. This helped San Antonio race out to a 25-12 lead and they never really looked back. The only real scare was when Miami cut the deficit down to seven on a Norris Cole layup in the third quarter. However, the Spurs answered and gave themselves a comfortable cushion.

Now, last year’s runner-up has a 2-1 lead with Game 4 to be played in Miami once again. Even if San Antonio loses, they still have home court advantage. Assuming they win, the series could be all but over. This being said, it’s critical that Miami find a way to win as we head towards Game 4 tomorrow night.

Turn up the Intensity

The Spurs are too good a team for Miami to lose another game on their home floor and still hope to prevail in the series. To keep this from happening and even up the series, the Heat need to come out with more fire on Thursday night. Additionally, they have to realize the importance of every possession. James hit upon this during the post-game press conference with the following:

lebron-jamesIt was a cumulative of everything. Some possessions we played extremely well and they hit shots. Some possessions we weren’t quite there and they hit shots as well. One thing about this team, if you make a mistake they’re going to make you pay. They came in with a desperation we just didn’t match. Just because it’s our fourth Finals [appearance] doesn’t mean anything. That doesn’t guarantee you a win. It doesn’t guarantee you that you will be more urgent or less urgent than the next team.

Ray Allen was more blunt and critical of the team’s effort than LeBron. “It sucks. It really sucks,” Allen said. “They beat us and we didn’t bring urgency tonight.”

Chris Bosh also added, “We’re kidding ourselves if we think we can come down from 25 down no matter when the time is against a team like that.”

Keys for Miami to keep the Series within Reach

The obvious key for the Heat is to come out and be more aggressive while trying to throw San Antonio’s rhythm off early. In Game 3, Miami trotted out like they were the varsity team scrimmaging the JV squad. It’s hard to win a mid-April regular season game against a bottom feeder with this type of attitude – let alone an NBA Finals game against the league’s top team.

Another huge factor will be the play of Mario Chalmers. He scored just two points and was 0-of-5 from the field in the 111-92 defeat. For the series, Chalmers is averaging just 3.3 PPG. As bad as he’s played, at least the point guard is aware of it. “I think everybody else is doing their job and I’m being that guy that’s not helping out,” said Chalmers. “I don’t want to be that guy.”

One more key for the Heat will be taking Leonard out of the game early. As mentioned before, he started Game 3 on a 5-for-5 shooting tear, which included two three-pointers. So LeBron and Co. will have to do a better job of making the young player miss early so his confidence isn’t as high.

Assuming you’re interested in 2014 NBA Finals Game 4 betting, you can expect a much more competitive contest this time around. However, Miami needs to make some major adjustments for this to be a reality, though.

2014 NBA Finals Betting – Spurs vs Heat Game 1

heat-spurs-nba-finalsThe San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat are set to kick off Game 1 of the 2014 NBA Finals tonight (Thursday) at 9:00 pm ET. This is no doubt a hotly anticipated series because Miami barely eked out a championship when these teams met in last year’s Finals. So is LeBron James and Co. going to win their third straight title or will San Antonio’s “Big 3” capture another championship as their careers wind down?

This is a hard question to answer because of all the variables in play. For starters, San Antonio has grabbed the home court advantage, which means Game 1 will be taking place in South Texas rather than South Beach this time around. And the NBA Finals format has been switched from the old 2-3-2 version to the 2-2-1-1-1 format. Provided there is a Game 7 again, it would be at the AT&T Center, rather than Miami’s American Airlines Arena.

The Spurs having home court obviously gives them an edge. But what about some of the other factors that we might see play out tonight. Anybody who’s betting on Game 1 between San Antonio and Miami will want to pay attention to the following:

Upside for Miami: Dwyane Wade is Healthier

dwayne-wadeWade did pretty well in the Finals last year, averaging 19.6 PPG and shooting 47.6%. But he was held back at times, especially on defense due to his bad knees. This prompted coach Eric Spoelstra to rest the 32-year-old more during the regular season as he averaged 32.9 MPG. The plan seems to have worked because Wade is averaging 18.7 PPG on 51.9% shooting in the playoffs, and he’s looking better on defense. We wouldn’t be surprised if he takes an even bigger step up in the Finals.

Upside for San Antonio: Manu Ginobili is playing Better

Ginobili had a forgettable performance in the 2013 Playoffs as he averaged 11.5 PPG on 39.9% shooting – hitting just 30.2% of his three-point attempts. And nowhere were his struggles more apparent than in the Finals, where he committed 8 turnovers during Game 6 when San Antonio had Miami on the ropes. Will he melt down in the 2014 NBA Finals? If the first three rounds are any indication, no. Ginobili is averaging 14.3 PPG and shooting 38.9% from beyond the arc, making it much more likely that he’ll show up.

Downside for San Antonio: Tony Parker may not be 100%

tony-parkerCory Joseph played the entire second half of San Antonio’s Game 6 victory over Oklahoma City since Tony Parker’s ankle was hurting. Parker has already told the media that he’ll be suiting up for Game 1. The big question now is if five days of rest will be enough for tonight’s contest. Assuming Parker struggles with his ankle, the Spurs lose one big advantage they have in the series at point guard.

Downside for Miami: Their Defense hasn’t been as dominating

The 2013 Playoffs saw Miami hold teams to 102.9 points per 100 possessions and 43.6% shooting. This year’s version of the Heat has allowed 107.7 points per 100 possessions and 46.2% shooting. So are we to believe that the Heat’s defense is worse this season? It’s hard to tell whether they’re playing weaker defense as a unit or they were just lackadaisical against lesser competition. Miami rolled through the Eastern Conference, blowing out Charlotte and Brooklyn, then getting a little resistance from Indiana. That said, we may not truly know what the situation is with Miami until after a few games in the San Antonio series.

2014 NBA Finals Game 1 Betting Prediction

The Spurs are coming into the Finals with a vengeance. As Tim Duncan says, they wanted to play the Heat this year. Well, Duncan’s wish has been granted and with home court to boot. Given that San Antonio is a motivated squad and they’re out for revenge, we like them to come out strong in the first game and win by a score of 102 – 95. But even if they do win Game 1 like we expect, the entire series should be a close battle.

Tim Duncan wanted the Miami Heat Again, now he has Them

tim-duncan-nba-finalsIt’s another year in the NBA, but not much has changed at the top. For the second straight year, the Miami Heat dispatched the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals, taking the series in six games. The San Antonio Spurs also needed just six games to beat the more-youthful Oklahoma City Thunder. So now, for the second straight year, Miami and San Antonio will meet in the NBA Finals.

Last year’s series was a seesaw affair, with the Heat finally pulling away 95-88 on their home floor in Game 7. The Spurs had their adversaries on the ropes at one point in Game 6. However, LeBron James and Ray Allen sparked a heroic comeback that saw the series shift back to Miami for the deciding final contest.

Duncan can’t wait to play Miami

Given how close the series was, it’s little surprise that Tim Duncan relishes the opportunity to play the Heat again for the NBA title. “We’re happy that it’s the Heat,” said Duncan. “We’ll be ready for them. We’ve got some experience, obviously, from last year against them. And we’ll go back and look at some film. And we’ve got that bad taste in our mouths still. Hopefully, we’ll be ready to take it this time.”

Duncan has won four titles with the Spurs, taking the Larry O’Brien Trophy in 1999, 2003, ’05 and ’07. He and the Spurs came agonizingly close to another one in 2013 as they led Game 6 by a score of 94-89 with just 28 seconds left. However, an Allen 3-pointer turned the tide of the game and, as mentioned before, Miami won the final two contests. “We were ready last year and we just couldn’t get over the hump,” Duncan said.

Renewed Fire

tim-duncan-nba-finals-1Losing the Finals really seems to have motivated the aging Spurs this season as they topped the NBA with a 62-20 record, despite playing in the all-around-tougher Western Conference. The Heat, meanwhile, cruised to the second seed in the East after finishing 54-28. That said, San Antonio will have home court advantage in this year’s 2-2-1-1-1 format.

Aside from having home court advantage in the 2014 NBA Finals – a change from last season – San Antonio also comes into the series with more experience. Sure, you can’t get more experienced than the Spurs’ “Big Three,” Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. However, important role players like Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Patty Mills, Tiago Splitter and Corey Joseph were all making their first trip to the Finals a year ago. Plus, there’s new help in Boris Diaw, who scored 26 points against the Thunder in Game 6, and sharpshooter Marco Belinelli.

“Last year was many guys’ first time to the Finals,” Green explained. “We’re lucky enough to go back. There is still a lot of work to be done, and we won’t be satisfied until we accomplish our goal. And that’s to be the last team standing.”

Stepping up

It seems that the San Antonio role players could have a much bigger impact this time around. This is especially the case with regard to Joseph, who started the entire second half of San Antonio’s 112-107 (OT) Game 6 victory over Oklahoma City. Parker sat out after his ankle began bothering him and he couldn’t cut on it very well. So head coach Greg Popovich chose to rest his star guard, rather than risk further injury. Parker, who averaged 14 PPG and 5.5 APG on the season, had just eight points, two rebounds and no assists in his limited Game 6 outing.

The one thing that Parker and older Spurs players have on their side is five days rest. The 2014 NBA Finals doesn’t start until 8pm ET on Thursday. This also favors those who are interested in 2014 NBA Finals betting because they still have plenty of time to research the matchups and make an informed decision. Furthermore, there’ll also be a number of NBA Finals prop bets and live wagering opportunities for bettors to enjoy.