A sect of Cavalier fans would like their favorite NBA team to cut the engines for the rest of the season right about now (this writer has at least one foot in on that proposition).
The Cavaliers were having none of that, however, as they soundly defeated the New York Knicks for the tenth straight time in Quicken Loans Arena by the score of 98-90. They did so with their star Kyrie Irving back to his old self (21 points) and the bench playing scrappy and bringing it home down the stretch. The Knicks with Stoudemire back in the fold looked like a team still searching for how they want to play as they will now be the 7th or 8th seed which brings an unfavorable matchup in either Miami or Chicago. Factor all that in, and the #TankStrong initiative was put on hold for one night.With that in mind, I have some thoughts on the Cavaliers with the season coming to a close.
- Let me start by saying that if you let me choose, I’d prefer that the Cavaliers would lose their four remaining games and improve their odds to what could still be the third best heading into the NBA Draft Lottery, guaranteeing a top six pick. But, I’m also not going to be someone who can’t take solace in positive takeaway points from an enjoyable basketball game. The people who are upset that the Cavaliers win games are the same ones that complain the loudest when they completely fail to compete at all (see: Detroit, 50 point deficit). You can’t have it both ways all the time, and with all the injuries and coming and going, the Cavaliers have been wildly unpredictable and inconsistent.
- The reason I’m getting a little frantic about draft odds positioning is that I think you see a pretty clear dropoff after the top six prospects in Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist, Robinson, Beal, Barnes, and Drummond. The 7th pick is a nightmare, having to make a tough decision between Jeremy Lamb, Austin Rivers, and Tyler Zeller, among other possibilities. If the Cavaliers can secure one of the talented wing trio (Bradley Beal, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, or Harrison Barnes), I think they would be overjoyed, and this team would take another huge step in competing and making it back to the playoffs. If you asked me right now, they’re all incredibly close, but I would rank them MKG, Barnes, and Beal in that order.
- Byron Scott said that losing Anderson Varejao and Kyrie Irving for the games that he did may have cost his team 10 wins. That sounds like a lot initially, but I can totally get behind that idea. How many games did they get positively nothing from the center position? How many times did Byron reluctantly trot Ryan Hollins or Semih Erden out there? Until Tristan was shoehorned into the center position, the Cavaliers rarely got anything of note from the five spot. Add in the tough offensive displays without Irving, and I think you get shockingly close to a 30-35 win team.
- Manny Harris and Samardo Samuels were two of the most key contributors in last night’s game. Harris, who is back in the fold following the end of Lesanity in Cleveland, scored a season-high 19 points and notched a career-high 12 rebounds in a by-far team-high 41 minutes. Manny played the entire fourth quarter and was actually the only starter to play at all in the final quarter. He was 6-of-12 from the field including 3-of-5 on three pointers, with one of those a halfcourt heave with the shot clock winding down that banked in.
- With Gee missing his third straight game and Hudson out of the mix, maybe this was just the chance that Manny Harris needed. Manny dominated the D-League then came up here and was unable to get playing time. I have the not-so-bold feeling that Byron Scott has some sort of beef with aspects of Manny’s game. However, when you’re looking for young guys with talent and untapped potential to bring back next year, I think you have to consider Harris one of those guys who should get an additional look as a bench option.
- As for Samuels, this is the type of play that I’ve been hoping to see all season. He’s shown flashes, but it took him some time to shed that extra weight, and he’s still battling consistency issues. It’s downright phenomenal how he rises to the occasion against the Knicks, posting 15 points, blocking two shots, and taking multiple charges. Samardo’s still young, and I think he will carve out a role on someone’s bench. I’m hoping it’s here. He just needs to stay away from the J.J. Hickson 15-foot jumpers.
- Back to Hudson for a second, I’m mildly upset that the Cavaliers weren’t able to secure him for next year. If it was as simple as not offering him a rest of the year contract after his first 10-day deal expired, that’s just foolish on the Cavaliers’ part. I don’t think that’s the entire reason, and I don’t fault Hudson for wanting to go to the playoffs with his hometown team in Memphis. It’s just sad that what seemed like such a great story less than two weeks ago has become yesterday’s news. You can’t overvalue a 27-year-old combo guard who has a high shot volume, but he did enough in his time in Cleveland to leave me wanting more.
- With the signing of D.J. Kennedy, the Cavaliers are hoping to catch lightning in a bottle from the D-League once again. It’s hard to argue that the Cavaliers have some excellent scouting going on down in the D-League. First, they nabbed Alonzo Gee, who caught eyes in the NBA Development League back in 2010, last season (though they weren’t the first NBA team with that idea). Then, they found Donald Sloan, who looks to be the backup point heading into next season, and Lester Hudson. They used the D-League to improve the confidence of Manny Harris and Luke Harangody too.
- I’m really surprised that Kyrie Irving is playing again this year. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that he’s healthy again, and these last few opportunities should remove any shred of doubt from a Rookie of the Year award that he ran away with despite missing 14 games. However, a reinjuring of that shoulder in the final few games would be upsetting, and I expected them to take much of the same path that they did with Andy in shutting him down.
- If you look back to my keeper article from a few months back, not much has changed. I still believe the Cavaliers can look to keep Kyrie, Tristan, Alonzo, and Anderson for the near future. Then, you have some question marks for role players in Gibson, Casspi, Harris, and Samuels. With plenty of cap space to utilize when they’re ready and four draft picks, I think the Cavalier rotation will be plenty more easy on the eyes come November.
(Photo: David Liam Kyle/NBAE Getty Images)