Cavs Need to Keep Kevin Love as Second Option When Thomas Returns

October was a month to forget for the Cleveland Cavaliers. With so many changes to their roster, the Cavs struggled to gel right out of the gate. They looked like five individuals on the court instead of a team. However, thanks to a thirteen game win streak, Cleveland is sitting at 24-10 and first place in the Central Division. Oh, and they are still waiting for their point guard to play.

Increased production from a number of people led to the Cavaliers turnaround. Yes, Lebron James is and always will be the driving force behind this team, but the most important player so far this season has been Kevin Love. Averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds a game, Love looks like the all-star Cleveland traded for years back.

The biggest reason for the transformation has been the departure of Kyrie Irving. With Irving gone and Isaiah Thomas out, Cleveland needed a second option to help Lebron. This need for scoring gave Love something he never really had in a Cavalier uniform: freedom.

Being a third option is hard. Your touches are limited, and you are expected to produce high output with a smaller amount of touches than you’re accustomed to. Any NBA fan saw Love struggle in this role. Many NBA players do struggle in this role. But this year is different. This year Love is the number two guy, and he is rewarding Cleveland.

Love’s great start to the season is a call to head coach Ty Lue. With Isaiah Thomas getting closer to return, Kevin Love needs to remain the second option behind Lebron. While the idea seems easy, the actual doing could prove to be tough. Thomas is coming off his best season as a pro by far. He is in a contract year, will have the ball in his hands as the point guard, and you know is just itching to make his mark in Cleveland. While Thomas is not a selfish player by any means, putting the ball in a score-first point guard’s hands could take touches away from everyone else.

Coming off a career year and being asked to play third fiddle is a rough thing to handle for an elite competitor. However, as difficult as this may be, Thomas needs to do so for the betterment of the Cavaliers. Love has showed what he can do when given the keys. His numbers are Hall of Fame worthy, whereas Thomas is looked at as more of a “one hit wonder.” Being the point guard, Thomas will also be able to affect the game in a non-scoring way more than Love can from the four position.

The Cleveland Cavaliers appeared to have found their groove. Despite the slow start, they are looked at yet again as the team to take down in the Eastern Conference. While adding another all-star to this hot team may seem like having your cake and eating it too, every player needs to understand their role coming out of the integration. Lebron is still King, and Kevin Love needs to be second in command. It just has to happen.

NBA Christmas Slate Full of Gifts

The holidays have become synonymous with family, giving, spreading and cheer and also, for basketball fans, the NBA. Every year the NBA hosts a five game slate on Christmas, and when the schedule is as good as it is this season it serves as a wonderful Holiday gift to basketball junkies everywhere. From individual match-ups to a rematch of the last three NBA finals, the 2017 slate has something for everyone. It will provide a day full of meaningful and fun basketball. Let’s take a look at the match-ups and what to look out for on Monday:

New York vs. Philadelphia

The Christmas day slate kicks off with a game featuring two of the more fun (surprisingly) teams to watch so far this season, as the Knicks and the Sixers face off at Madison Square Garden. Philadelphia has Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid who are one of the most talented duos in the entire league. Embiid’s been day-to-day with some back soreness, but should be good to go for Monday’s contest. Philly is the best rebounding team in the league (48.4/game) and 3rd in assists (26.2/game) which is spurred by the passing of their two young superstars. The Sixers have struggled mightily in the month of December, as they have dropped 9\nine of their last ten contests. Monday represents a good chance for them to get out of their funk and get some positive momentum heading into 2018.

On the other side the Knicks are surging as they have won six of their last ten games, and stand as one of the most improved teams.. While he still has growing (game wise, hopefully for everyone else not height wise) to do, Kristaps Porzingis has at times played at a superstar level so far during this season. Porzingis and Embiid (as long as he plays) is going to be an extremely fun match-up to watch of two of the best young and versatile big men in the league. It also needs to be mentioned that Michael Beasley has been on a tear of late and is one of the most fun guys to watch over the last two weeks, like his 18 point 4th quarter against the Celtics earlier this week. While this is the first game between the two Atlantic division foes, the Knicks have the slight edge, especially if Embiid is not playing at 100%.

Cleveland at Golden State 

The rematch of the last three NBA Finals, and potentially again in 2018, square off for the first time this season on Christmas Day in the Bay (fingers crossed this is the only rhyming within the article). Both teams have been on hot of late. The Warriors have won 11 of their last 12. and the Cavs are winners of 19 of their last 21 games after overcoming a slow start. Both teams will not be at fll strength. The Cavs will be without their top two point guards in Isaiah Thomas and Derrick Rose, and the Warriors will be down Zaza Pachulia, Shaun Livingston and potentially Draymond Green, although he was given the green light from the Warriors medical staff last night. While it will certainly be a better and hopefully healthier match-up come June, there is still a lot of reasons to watch the game on Xmas afternoon.

For starters LeBron has been as dominant as he has been at any time in his career. He is a leading MVP candidate along with James Harden, and is shooting 57% from the field and 41% from 3. Kevin Love has quietly been having one of the best seasons of his career, and has been huge in his role as the second option for Cleveland. As far as the Warriors are concerned they are back to business as usual. Curry and Durant are both averaging 26.3 points per contest, with Klay Thompson chipping in almost 21 a game. Draymond Green has given them the same versatility on both ends as always, and rookie Jordan Bell has been giving the team great minutes with Pachulia out and injured. The Warriors are the better team and at home, so I expect them to win, but this is the best match-up of teams during the whole Christmas day lineup.

Washington at Boston

John Wall and Kyrie Irving will serve as by far the best point guard match-up on Christmas Day, but the two teams are on opposite ends of the playoff picture a third of the way into the season. While the Celtics have been struggling as of late, losing five of ten, they still hold the best record in the Eastern Conference and stand as the lone viable threat to take out the Cavs out East. The Wizards have not quite been as good as they were thought to be going into the season, but so far they still lead their division. John Wall has struggled with some injury issues thus far, and it has played a huge factor into the Wizards slow start. Marcus Morris will miss the game for the Celtics and is the only player ruled out thus far for Monday evening.

While Wall has struggled both on the court at times, and off the court with injuries this season, Bradley Beal has continued to develop into one of the best shooting guards in the league. Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre both continue to improve and give Washington quality depth out on the wing. Getting Wall healthy and playing back at the level we all know he is capable of is imperative in getting the Wizards trending back up the Eastern Conference standings. Meanwhile, the Celtics are trying to right the ship a little bit at home on Christmas. While everyone has been talking about Kyrie Irving and rookie Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown has started to show signs of putting it all together, which is a proposition that should scare everyone in the NBA. Celtics should win this game at home, but Washington desperately needs to add some big wins to their record, which should have them coming in hungry and ready to go.

Houston at Oklahoma City

There is no match-up on Christmas day that features two teams on polar (no Xmas pun intended) opposite ends of the spectrum than Houston and OKC. Houston has the NBA’s best record (25-6), the player leading the MVP race (James Harden) and Chris Paul, who when healthy has still yet to lose a game in a Rockets uniform. Oklahoma City has struggled to find any consistent chemistry between superstars Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, but a solution may be on the verge of developing as they have started to string some wins. Chris Paul and Clint Capela are day-to-day and could play, while Luc Mbah a Moute is the only player definitely out for Monday’s contest, and the Thunder come in to Monday with a clean bill of health.

While Westbrook has struggled from the field, mightily at times, this season he is still on the verge of averaging another triple-double (23.6 points/9.5 rebounds/9.9 assists per game) and has been punishing rims seemingly every night (Side Note: if you do not already, please do yourself a favor and follow @World_Wide_Wob on Twitter, he posts highlights every single night). Paul George and Carmelo Anthony struggled to get acclimated early, but are starting to find their place within the OKC offense, which can potentially make them a nightmare match-up in the Western Conference playoffs. While the Rockets have dropped their last two contests, they have been off to an incredible start and look every bit a contender out West. James Harden has been playing at an MVP level, Chris Paul is unbeaten when healthy this season and Eric Gordon has been a great piece both in the starting lineup and coming off of the bench. Clint Capela continues to improve and offers Mike D’antoni something that he has never previously had on a contender, a rim protector. This may end up being the most exciting game of the entire day.

Minnesota at LA Lakers

Monday’s lineup rounds up with a game between one of the most improved teams in the league and one of its youngest and most fun teams to watch. The Timberwolves lead the Northwest division with a record of 20-13 and feature one of the games best inside-out combos in Jimmy Butler and Karl Anthony-Towns. The Lakers have been inconsistent, but with two of the best rookies in the league the future is looking extremely bright for the Lakers. As far as injuries are concerned both teams could be down one player for Monday’s game, Nemanja Bjelica for Minnesota and Brandon Ingram for the Lakers. While this game may lack the firepower of the earlier games, there are still some sure fire reasons to watch Monday night on TNT.

Tom Thibodeau has to be pleased thus far with how the Wolves have been playing, but has to see that there is still a ton of room to grow. Butler has been getting used to playing with Thibs again, but is starting to find his groove, while young centerpieces Towns and Andrew Wiggins have shown flashes, but need to continue to get better year-in and year-out to have this team reach their full potential. Making the playoffs would be a win for Minnesota this season, but they will have to continue to grow to work on winning a series or two in future seasons. The Lakers have struggled, and coach Luke Walton voiced his displeasure after a loss to Portland on Saturday night. The team is very young, and despite their struggles has to be encouraged by the Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram and the strides that Lonzo Ball has made over the last few weeks. Is this the best Christmas Day match-up? Far from it. Is it worth staying up and being a little tired at the office on Tuesday (for those who work this week)? Absolutely.

Basketball becoming a huge part of Christmas Day has been a huge victory for NBA and basketball junkies everywhere. The schedule is loaded, and there should be 12+ hours of basketball to package with your family and other Holiday joy this season. Feel free to join the discussion in the comment below, or on Twitter (@thehoopgroup or my personal handle @dgunnerhg). Most importantly Happy Holidays to you and yours, and hopefully 2018 turns out to be your best year yet!

While Free Agency Dominates, The 76ers Go Against the Grain

Ever since The Decision, NBA fans have been talking themselves into the possibility of Lebron’s team missing the Finals. The first candidate to knock him off was the “Big 3” Celtics. Lebron’s Heat knocked them out in 5 games during his first year in Miami, and took them out in 7 games the next year. The next challengers were Paul George’s Pacers. The Pacers met the Heat two straight years in the conference finals, but couldn’t slay the dragon. After that, Lebron returned to the Cavs in 2015. His Finals appearances have felt more preordained than ever. Neither the Hawks nor the Raptors posed any real threat. Te parade of challengers came full circle last year, with a completely rebuilt Celtics team falling to the Cavs in the Conference Finals. But there is finally some light at the end of the tunnel for those who want to see new blood come out of the East.

Last week, Joel Embiid put up 46 points, 15 rebounds, 7 assists, and 7 blocks in a game against the Lakers. It’s a stat line that no one else has ever accomplished. Anyone who has ever been close to that in a single game is indisputably an all-time great. Since 1980, the most similar lines were put up by Shaq (40/17/8/5) and David Robinson, (42/14/5/5) per basketball reference’s game finder. In the same game, his teammate Ben Simmons had 18/9/10 to go along with 5 steals. These numbers are starting to look normal for him.

Obviously, Embiid has a long way to go before being considered an all-time great. Making an All-Star game would be a good start. His health will remain a huge question for the foreseeable future. But this game and his play throughout the first month of the regular season erases any lingering doubt about the type of player he is when healthy. His dominance, combined with the play of Simmons (who is a lock for Rookie of the Year), make the 76ers a force to be reckoned with almost immediately.

It’s possible that the emergence of two future superstars on the 76ers ends up having little impact on Lebron’s reign over the East. Lebron is rumored to be looking to sign with a team in the West after this year, and the Sixers remain one year away from truly putting a scare into the top teams in the conference. With Gordon Hayward’s leg injury, the Celtics probably lack the firepower to take out the Cavs this year. But with all of these factors combined, the East should finally – finally! – be represented by a non-Lebron team in the 2019 Finals.

Should We Be Concerned About The Cavaliers Defense?

It’s two weeks into the NBA Season. The cause for concern for teams should be minimal and the hands should still be far away from the panic button. NBA seasons are not won and lost in October. Sometimes, they don’t even tell the story of how the season will go. They do however, give us a chance to see where improvements must be made. For the Cleveland Cavaliers, their answer is simple: Defense.

The Cavs started the season 3-1, but have since dropped their last three contests. A three game losing streak is nothing worrisome for a team with Lebron James on it. The King even noted that in his post game press conference that it is only October. And yes, the Cavs are still awaiting the return of Isaiah Thomas, and are not at full strength just yet. The problem is that Cleveland is doing well in the areas where Thomas helps. They are averaging 105 points a game and 21 assists per contest as a team. Thomas will help, and will allow Lebron to move away from the Point Guard position, but he will not solve their defensive woes.

In their four losses this year, Cleveland has given up 114, 1112, 123 & 114 points. They even gave up 112 in a win to a Chicago Bulls team that has only managed to score 100+ one other time, and his averaging 89 points a game in the young season. It’s a small sample size, but these are bad numbers for a team that has their eyes set on an NBA title.

Tyronn Lue has attributed some of the early season struggles to chemistry, as a new team gets adjusted playing with one another. That is completely fair to an extent, but the new additions aren’t exactly defensive specialists. Dwyane Wade is not the defender he once was and Derrick Rose can’t keep anyone in front of him. Furthermore, additions like Jeff Green and Jae Crowder have slid Tristan Thompson, one of their best defensive rebounders, further down on the bench.

When Gordon Hayward suffered his horrific injury, many dubbed the Cavs favorites to win the East, if they weren’t already crowned. Right now though, the Cleveland Cavaliers are not playing like a championship team. Championship teams don’t give up 110+ points to the Nets and Knicks within a week. Change does need to be made if Cleveland wants to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals. Fortunately we’re turning to the calendar to November, not April.

The Life and Times Of LeBron James

Contrary to what many might think, LeBron James wasn’t born a basketball player. Born December 30, 1984, LeBron Raymone James needed youth basketball camps, basketball skills training, and repetition just like everyone else playing the sport. Growing up in Akron, Ohio, hard work was essential to his overall development. Even when LeBron became stronger and faster than kids his own age, he still wanted to improve his game.

What may be drastically different about LeBron than the average player is that he developed so quickly, and not just physically. His game escalated from a mental perspective as well. Coaches took notice of how hard nosed he was. His youth coach made him practice his left hand skills at a young age and when practice was over he had him working as an assistant coach for children.

Growing up in humble beginnings, LeBron was basically the head of his household at an early age. His mom struggled financially and eventually he lived with his basketball coach. The story of how he became the basketball player he is today is a lesson in hard work and perseverance. Not to mention LeBron had help and training from others who believed in him.

That’s exactly why LeBron didn’t need to play college basketball and has become one of the greatest basketball players of all time. Most high school players need college to further their basketball training skills; LeBron James was one of the exceptions. He might have been good enough to go pro during his junior year of high school.

So good at hoops, LeBron was actually recruited by St. Vincent-St. Mary High School to play ball in 1999. He probably would not have gotten to that point without youth basketball training and basketball clinics along the way. He went to Sonny Viccaro’s camp regularly. His 2017 Cleveland Cavs teammate, Kyrie Irving, went to camps, just like LeBron did. Kyrie went to HoopGroup to further develop his skills, as did Kevin Durant and James Harden. The great ones always seem to realize they need to be around basketball from an educational standpoint, too.

LeBron James has always shown an incredible aptitude toward the game of basketball even at a young age. ESPN started televising high school basketball in part because LeBron was involved. The sports network was fully aware of his potential and was already showcasing his skills early and branded him “King James.” He scored 25 points in the state title game as a freshman. He became a household name at a very young age because of his ability.

To say LeBron stood out in the high school level would be an understatement. He was bigger, stronger, and quicker than many student athletes around him. More importantly, LeBron was more skilled. His basketball skills training had already paid off by that point. LeBron was smart enough to realize that he always needed to continue to grow on the court in order to be the best. There were things he could do to get better daily, weekly, and during summers even if he didn’t play college basketball. There were always lessons he could learn.

His hard work paid off when he was drafted as the top overall pick in the 2003 NBA draft.

These days LeBron plays the role of teacher at his own basketball camps. He sports three championship rings and four Most Valuable Player awards. He is an Olympic Gold Medalist. He might be the most well known athlete in the world. It could be all related to the hard work spent during the summer months as a kid at basketball clinics and camps.