No team made as many changes before the NBA trade deadline than the Eastern Conference champions. The team that LeBron built made some moves that they’re hoping allows them to stick with the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals.
Notice I wrote stick with the Warriors in the NBA Finals? The reason I wrote that is because the Cavaliers have already proven that, with the current squad they’re sending to the court, they’re the class of the Eastern Conference…again.
I dive deeper into why before discussing Cleveland’s starting lineup, Cleveland’s bench, and whether they’ve got a real shot to take down the best team in the NBA.
2018 NBA Cavaliers: Can They Now Hang with the Golden State Warriors?
Going into their Feb. 22 battle with the Washington Wizards, the Cleveland Cavaliers are undefeated since making big moves before the NBA Trade Deadline. The Cavaliers beat the Atlanta Hawks 123 to 107 as a +2 road favorite. As a 4.5 road dog, the Cavaliers dominated the Boston Celtics 121 to 99. Cleveland even beat Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder on the road 120 to 112 as a 3-point road dog.
That makes 3 straight road games straight-up and against the spread since remaking their team.
Cleveland Cavaliers Starting Lineup
PG George Hill
G JR Smith
F Cedi Osman
F LeBron James
C Tristan Thompson
Everything about the Cleveland Cavaliers begins and ends with The King, LeBron James. LeBron might be the greatest basketball player to ever live. It’s doubtful he ever wins 6 championships. However, one on one, I’d definitely take LeBron over Michael Jordan. I doubt anyone on the planet would disagree with me. I doubt Jordan would disagree with me.
James is this year’s NBA MVP. I don’t believe it’s even close. He averages 26.5 points, 8 boards, and 9 assists per game. More importantly, he makes everybody around him better.
That’s the key to winning in the NBA. It used to be that you needed at least two star players. It helps, but it’s not always the case. Golden State is only slightly better with Kevin Durant than they were without Durant. Cleveland might be much better without Kyrie Irving than they were with Kyrie Irving.
LeBron, as George Hill called him, is Batman. Hill also said that while LeBron is Batman, “everyone else are Robins”. Hill didn’t say that as a knock on his skills, or anybody else’s skills. Hill’s statement is acknowledgement at how awesome of a basketball player LeBron James truly is. Without LeBron there is no Cleveland Cavaliers.
Hill, by the way, might be the first pure point-guard that LeBron’s ever played with. Hill’s mere presence allows LeBron to play a point/forward position with an emphasis on the point. Hill only averages around 3 assists per game. That’s by design. Hill’s whole game with the Cavaliers is about putting LeBron in position to either succeed on his own, or to get the other players involved. That’s Hill’s role.
Another starter with a clearly defined role is forward Cedi Osman. Osman can score, grab boards, or even dish the basketball. He’s an excellent defender, though, and that’s how head coach Tyronn Lue has been utilizing Osman, on the defensive end. Osman is particularly excellent at defending the pick and roll.
JR Smith provides offense while Tristan Thompson is a fierce rebounder. Thompson, although undersized for a center, is a tough dude. He’s one of the few players on Cleveland’s old roster that LeBron absolutely wanted Cavs’ management to resign.
As talented as Cleveland’s starters are, the truth is that Cleveland’s resurgence wouldn’t be a fact without the five players on the Cavaliers’ bench. Keep reading to find out how Cleveland managed to create one of the deepest benches in the NBA.
Cleveland Cavaliers Bench Players
G/F Rodney Hood
G/F Jeff Green
F Larry Nance Jr.
G Jordan Clarkson
G Kyle Korver
What makes Cleveland’s bench so great is that every player on the bench has been a starter at the NBA level. Jeff Green is a fantastic player. Rodney Hood is also a fantastic player. At one point, Laker coach Luke Walton called Larry Nance Jr. the best player on the team.
Jordan Clarkson provides instant offense while Kyle Korver is a three-point specialist. How important has Cleveland’s bench become? Check out minutes and stats each bench player provided in Cleveland’s last game before All-Star Weekend.
Rodney Hood: 24:26 minutes, 14 points, 2 boards
Jeff Green: 26:35 minutes, 10 points, 1 assist, 4 boards
Larry Nance Jr: 24:52 minutes, 13 points, 2 assists, 9 boards
Jordan Clarkson: 23:32 minutes, 14 points, 4 assists, 3 boards
Kyle Korver: 8:16 minutes, 1 board
Sure, Korver didn’t score against the Oklahoma City Thunder. But, versus the Atlanta Hawks, Korver scored 30 points. What does that tell us? It tells us that Lue’s got a lot of different lineups he can throw at opponents because all five players on the bench can contribute.
One note about Clarkson is that in addition to being an excellent shooter, he can also dish the rock. That means Jordan can play point when LeBron wants to post up a smaller player. Hood, Green, Nance Jr. and Clarkson are all versatile. Lue can get as creative as he wants.
Korver is a deadly three-point shooter. Man, the Cavs’ bench has gotten good!
Bottom Line: Cavs Could Make Life Difficult for Steph, KD, and the Warriors
The win over Boston was the most impressive. Boston remains Cleveland’s top road block to a third straight trip to the NBA Finals. The Cavs obliterated the Celtics’ defense.
While Boston allows an average of 99.6 points per game. Cleveland rocked the C’s for 121 points. While Boston allows opponents to average 43.4% from the field, Cleveland shot 53.6% from the field. While Boston’s defense holds opponents on average to 34.2% from three, the Cavs shot over 53% from three. LeBron and his knights made 16 of 30 three-point shots.
But, this Cleveland team doesn’t just score points. The Cavs also play defense. Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder shot 31.4% from three in their loss to the Cavs. Russell only made 7 of 19 from the field. He went 0 for 3 from the three-point line. The Thunder shot 31.4% from three versus Cleveland’s defense.
The Cavaliers upgraded both their offense and defense. Does that make them a threat to take down the Golden State Warriors?
One of the reasons the Warriors are so tough is because they can come at you in waves. Coach Steve Kerr plays his second unit for long stretches in games specifically because he knows the second unit can wear out starters. In that sense, Golden State still has a massive edge over the Cavaliers.
The Warriors can rest Steph, or KD, or both. Heck, they can rest Steph, KD, and Klay Thompson as long as Draymond Green is on the court. That’s because the Warriors are the only team with 4 star players.
Cleveland has one star player. LeBron. Sure, Cleveland’s bench is great. Yes, all 5 of the bench players have started in the NBA. And, yes, the Cavaliers have become a much more cohesive team. But, the Cavaliers can’t afford to rest LeBron. Not for too long, anyhow. Without LeBron, a team like Golden State is going to squash a team like Cleveland.
This is LeBron James, though. LeBron, like I wrote above, might be the greatest player to ever step onto an NBA court. He’s definitely the best player on the court no matter who the Cleveland Cavaliers play. That includes playing the Golden State Warriors.
LeBron James decided to beat the Golden State Warriors all by himself in 2016. In 2018, he’s got the right supporting cast to help him in his quest to once again beat the best team in the NBA.
I think the Cavs did enough to contend with the Golden State Warriors. Cleveland is back, baby!