Most listeners are aware that LeBron James has consistently guided his teams to NBA Finals appearances (six straight, to be exact), yet this season’s Cavaliers continue to be tested by a number of key injuries that threaten to derail their hopes of repeating as champions. Issues stemming from these injuries have resulted in the team’s recent mediocre play, as Eastern counterparts like the Wizards and Celtics angle for the No. 1 seed currently occupied by Cleveland. Justin Rowan of SB Nation’s Fear the Sword is here to break down those struggles and also illuminate how the Cavaliers can reasonably overcome them. In addition to LeBron James’ MVP case and the importance of the Kyle Korver acquisition, Justin speaks about Larry Sanders rumors, Tristan Thompson’s underrated contributions, J.R. Smith’s outsized role and more.
5:17-5:56: “[Larry Sanders is] definitely going to bring a lot of personality to the team, which can be a good thing. I think they have the right type of culture for that. They also have a history of dealing with players who have suffered with mental illness issues. Delonte West had some public issues with the Cavaliers and has talked recently about how LeBron is still a big part of his life and supporting him and helping him work through that. So having LeBron, who is familiar with having a teammate with those issues and what’s involved there, it could be a supportive situation for him.”
8:46-10:09: “It’s tough because…the extensive pre-game routine that [LeBron James] goes through, which is hours of physical preparation, if he doesn’t play at least 34 minutes, he views it as if he shouldn’t even have played at all. He views it as a waste for the all the preparation he goes through. His minutes per game are up, but when you look at total minutes played, he’s about 13th in the league. Getting him those off nights, making sure that he doesn’t play a lot of back-to-backs—almost all of his rest situations have come in back-to-backs—I think they’re allowing for his body to recover. He does sit out practices as well, so those are minutes taken off his body that don’t necessarily show up in minutes per game. Basically, he spends more money and pays more attention to his body than anyone else. With him feeling confident that he is getting enough rest and not being concerned with it, as well as the medical staff assigned to him, I’m not too concerned. It would be nice if the minutes were lower, and theoretically, if they were healthy, the depth of this Cavs team would almost force him to rest.The addition of Deron Williams is a big part of trying to get him rest.”
13:50-14:31: “They really like what [Kyle Korver] can bring to the floor: the spacing that he provides, the offense he can generate. He obviously doesn’t have the same quickness and defensive ability that he’s had in the past, but he’s still a smart team defender and he has quick hands. And he’s a willing passer, which works well in the Cavs system. I still do expect him to get around 20 minutes a game, even in the Finals. He’s such a matchup problem and he creates so much spacing for LeBron, as well as Kyrie Irving, that the more minutes you can have him on the floor—as long as he’s not getting abused on the defensive end—you try to keep him out there as long as humanly possible.”
17:38-18:26: “The playmaker thing, that became a bigger issue after J.R. got hurt, because then LeBron with the second unit without Shumpert was just getting absolutely torched. It was one of the Cavs’ worst lineups. Channing Frye was in there, but teams were really doubling LeBron, trying to get the ball out of his hands and daring anybody else to kind of do anything. So without a secondary playmaker, without someone that could dribble and create looks, that lineup really lost a lot of its effectiveness. I do think the addition of Deron Williams does help that a lot. Derrick Williams has also helped as well. Having an athletic guy to play with those bench units really is a weapon that LeBron likes to utilize with his passing.”
21:55-22:41: “This year, [Tristan Thompson has] turned into one of the better rim protectors and defenders within six feet of the basket. So when you see that addition to his game as well as improved passing out of the short pick ‘n roll, he really has embraced the role that this team needs him to play. He’s kind of the opposite of Iman Shumpert, who can go rogue and try to do too much. Thompson’s a role player that accepts his role, he gives you the same effort if he’s getting 15 shots or if he’s getting none…Really, when it comes down to being a model of consistency and what you want from a role player on a championship team, Thompson embodies a lot of that.”
24:52-25:15: “The most points per game any LeBron teammate has ever had is Wade with 25.5 and Kyrie’s right up there with 25.2, and as I already mentioned he’s averaging the most assists per game out of any LeBron teammate. So when you look at those two factors, that’s just a load that LeBron has never had carried by a teammate.”
Music: “Who Likes to Party” by Kevin MacLeod