Does beating Warriors make Cleveland Cavaliers the NBA’s Best Team?

Draymond Green, LeBron JamesLast night featured one of the most-anticipated games of the 2014-15 NBA season, with the Cleveland Cavaliers hosting the Golden State Warriors. All eyes were on this contest because Golden State featured the league’s best record at 44-10, while Cleveland is hitting their stride after winning 17 out of their last 19 games.

This matchup was potentially a 2015 NBA Finals preview, and if the results are any indication – a 110-99 victory by Cleveland – the East should do very well in the Finals. Okay, so that’s putting the cart ahead of the horse, but the Cavs have even more momentum going forward after this huge victory.

The same can be said of LeBron James, who scored a season-high 42 points and grabbed 11 rebounds against Golden State. He came out strong right from the gate after scoring 24 points in the first half, and he continued attacking in the second half too. Kyrie Irving pitched in 24 points, along with a 10-for-10 performance from the free throw line.

Golden State’s star players, on the other hand, didn’t fare quite so well. Stephen Curry ended with 18 points on 5-of-17 shooting while Klay Thompson added 13 points on 5-of-13 shooting. David Lee came off the bench to lead the Warriors with 19 points.

cleveland-cavs-beat-warriors-1One thing became immediately clear after this game: for the first time since the season’s start, Cleveland is truly back in the discussion for serious title contenders. Furthermore, LeBron has made himself a strong MVP candidate with his best performance of the year against the NBA’s top team. King James easily outplayed one of the strongest MVP contenders, Curry, while continuing the excellence that started when he came back from an 8-game layoff in January. Of course, if LeBron falls short of the MVP award, he can still sleep at night knowing that he’s already earned 4 of them.

His bigger dream at this point is definitely bringing Cleveland its first NBA title. And this seems like a very realistic goal when considering that the Cavs continue climbing in the Eastern Conference standings. They’re currently half a game ahead of Chicago in the Central Division, while maintaining the number-three seed. They also sit just a game behind Toronto for the East’s second seed. Cleveland likely won’t catch Atlanta for the top seed, but if they keep playing like this, will it really matter? Moreover, is there another NBA team that can beat them?

If the Warriors hope to answer yes to this question, they’ll need a stronger defensive effort in the future. This shouldn’t be a problem because, coming into last night’s contest, they ranked No. 1 in defensive efficiency. However, they couldn’t contain a red-hot start from the Cavs, who put up 32 points in the first quarter and 61 by halftime.

James lighting up Andre Iguodala and Harrison Barnes was a big reason for this offensive outburst. But four other Cavs ended up in double digits too, meaning there’s no shortage of options on the Cleveland roster. Of course, there are over three months of basketball left to be played, so it’s a little early to anoint the Cavs as the automatic champion.

Miami Heat Betting: Hassan Whiteside is for Real

hassan-whiteside-miamiWhen LeBron James left the Miami Heat, the team from South Beach was considered a long shot to make the postseason. After all, they are an aging club with a limited bench. But thanks to the emergence of Hassan Whiteside, Miami is currently in the postseason mix and surprising the league.

In just 18.5 minutes per game, the former Marshall big man is averaging 9.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and shooting 62.4% from the field. Overall, pretty amazing for a 25-year-old who’d previously appeared in just 19 games before, with stops in the NBDL, China and Lebanon sprinkled in between. So where did this guy come from?

After displaying impressive shot-blocking skills and raw athleticism in college, Whiteside attracted attention from the Sacramento Kings coaching staff. It took some convincing of the owners, but Sacramento ended up taking Whiteside with their second-round pick (33rd overall) in the 2010 NBA Draft.

Unfortunately, the Kings plucked the 7-footer before he was ready to contribute. Whiteside was too skinny and too immature to fully grasp the complexities of NBA offense and defense. It didn’t help that many league executives also saw him as a problem player with an attitude. So Whiteside spent most of his early days in the D-League, before being waived by Sacramento in 2012. What followed was the previously described international journey.

And Whiteside had more to deal with in Lebanon than just culture shock. He heard a nearby car bomb explode, witnessed a dead body lying in the street, and saw brutal fights happen in the stands of games. “It put things in perspective,” Whiteside told SI.com. “It’s different watching this stuff happen on the news than it is when it’s right down the street.”

hassan-whiteside-miami-1Despite everything going on around him, Whiteside found a way to pack on muscle, learn the intricacies of basketball and transform himself into a capable NBA center. “Doing it every day was great experience. It’s been NBA, NBA, NBA since I was little,” Whiteside said. “Being over there didn’t change anything. Other people probably thought I wouldn’t get back. But I did.”

Whiteside came back to the US, going through a failed training camp stint with the Memphis Grizzlies, then signing with the NBDL’s Iowa Energy. It was at this point that the Heat, who’d always been interested in Whiteside, signed him off the Energy’s roster. Miami worked out the youngster back in 2010 after being impressed with his 7’7″ wingspan and untapped potential. However, like many other teams, they passed while citing that he needed more development. But more recently, they saw something different from the guy whom they overlooked in the 2010 Draft.

Signed in December, Whiteside quickly solidified his spot on the roster after some gaudy double-doubles, such as a 23-point, 16-round performance against the Clippers and a 16-point, 16-rebound performance against the Bucks. Miami coach Erik Spoelstra wanted to slowly work the center into the lineup, but he’s just been too good to keep on the bench.

With Whiteside on the floor, the Heat are +2 points offensively and 3.2 points per 100 possessions better defensively. And things don’t look to change for either the team nor Whiteside because he only seems interested in getting better. “Every day is a new day to get better,” he said. “I want to make people remember my name.”

One thing’s for sure right now, nobody in the NBA will be forgetting his name any time soon.

Charlotte Hornets Betting: Lance Stephenson headlines Terrible Start

lance-stephenson-hornets-strugglingAfter his famed antics in the 2014 NBA Playoffs and solid numbers with the Pacers, Lance Stephenson inked a 3-year, $27 million contract with the Charlotte Hornets over the summer. Stephenson was supposed to be the missing piece that would take Charlotte from a fringe-playoff team to a serious threat in the Eastern Conference. Instead, he’s having his worst season in three years and the Hornets aren’t doing too hot either.

The numbers through 17 games tell it all since the fifth-year shooting guard has experienced a dip in most of his stats; check this out in the following comparisons:

PPG: 13.8 PPG last season, 9.8 PPG this season
2PT Shooting: 49.1% last season, 36.9% this season
3PT Shooting: 35.2% last season, 20.0% this season
FT Shooting: 71.1% last season, 64.3% this season
Rebounds: 7.2 last season, 7.9 this season
Assists: 4.6 last season, 5.6 this season

As you can see, Stephenson’s all-around numbers aren’t terrible when compared to the 2013-14 season – in fact, rebounds and assists are better so far in the 2014-15 campaign. But herein lies the problem as Stephenson is trying to do too much. Here’s an excerpt from an ESPN article that explains as much:

Hornets coach Steve Clifford believes Lance Stephenson’s problems adjusting during his first season in Charlotte are partly due to the guard’s struggles to live up to external expectations.

“To be fair, one of the things that’s made it more difficult for him is that he came here and people proclaimed him as the next superstar,” Clifford said Wednesday. “He’s not a star. He’s a guy that has talent to become a star. To be a star in this league, you have to do it over years.”

lance-stephenson-hornets-struggling-1This mentality of trying to live up to external expectations really reigns true in Stephenson’s shooting percentage, which is god awful for somebody who plays the “shooting” guard position. But while the shooting is a problem, what’s worse is that the Hornets keep losing. Their 106-101 loss to the Golden State Warriors last night is the eighth straight, and they’re sitting at 4-13, ranking them dead-last in the Southeast Division. Going further, there are only three teams in the NBA (Lakers, Pistons, Sixers) with a worse record than Charlotte right now.

Can Stephenson and the Hornets turn things around before it’s too late? Well anything is possible in the Eastern Conference – even for a 4-13 team. Plus Clifford has been sitting Stephenson in crunch time lately, sometimes the entire fourth quarter, to send a message. The hope is that this extreme move will motivate the fifth-year player to work harder, play smarter and break out of his slump. And judging from the way things are going, they’ll need Stephenson to start playing better if they’re to at least grab a low playoff seed again.