On Wednesday night, as the Cleveland Cavaliers were working on putting away the Denver Nuggets for the first win streak of the season, Cavs fans on Twitter began to rejoice. With good reason, too. After the miserable month of November for the Cavaliers, the team was coming off back-to-back home wins against playoff teams.
Perhaps some got a little carried away in their exuberance. Austin Carr called the win “the shot heard ‘round the league”. Others seemed to be channeling their inner Walter Sobchak in proclaiming “our f***ing troubles are over, Dude”. Of course, in the case of Walter and the Dude in The Big Lebowski, their troubles were actually really only just beginning. But what about the Cavaliers? What are we to make of their November troubles?
A two game win streak isn’t the kind of thing most teams celebrate. It’s certainly not something I expected to see Cavs fans celebrating in early December. But that’s the kind of season it has been. Predictable in its unpredictability. And amongst the mounting frustration and anguish of media, fans, coaches, and players, answers kept seemingly growing only in their elusiveness.
After the Cavaliers let a late lead in New Orleans slip away to the Pelicans, followed up by the San Antonio embarrassment the next night, there really seemed to be a sense that everything was slipping away. It was the moment the players had to unite as one and collectively take a hard look at themselves in the mirror. The fate of the season seemingly standing of the edge of a precipice, unclear which way it would go. Would the players give in and let everything fall off the edge?
Of course, a funny thing happened as rumors persisted of the season falling to its ultimate doom. The players found their resolve. With the Miami Heat coming into town, LeBron James and company seemed poised to drive the final death blow to the season. But the Cavaliers fought back. They resisted. They went toe to toe with the behemoth and even in defeat they gave the Heat everything they had.
Sure, they followed that up with a setback in Boston two nights later, but once again they refused to let that define them. Not yet, anyway. The Cavaliers came out the next two games and seemed determine to prove there was still life in this team…still a chance at returning to the playoffs.
Make no mistake, watching the effort and energy offered up the Cavaliers in 3 of the last 4 games has been a refreshing sight. Yet it’s so important to not get carried away. When things are going bad, it’s the easiest thing in the world to throw up your hands and say everything is ruined. And when things are going well, it’s the easiest thing in the world to say the team has finally discovered their stride.
Yet certain realities still exist. The Cavaliers are sill 27th in scoring and 28th in offensive efficiency (29th in eFG%). They are 19th in opponent scoring and 17th in defensive efficiency (15th in opponent eFG%). The Cavaliers haven’t proven anything yet, other than that they’re not completely willing to let this season get away from them. Yet there positive signs, too.
Andrew Bynum is getting better and better and able to play more and more as time goes on. Anderson Varejao slowly but surely has been shaking off his own rust. After all the drama of the players only meeting and Dion Waiters’ unfortunate timing of his illness, Dion seems to be settling into his role on the team. After a double-double drought after his early season hot start, Tristan Thompson has now recorded back-to-back double doubles. And even though he hasn’t rediscovered his early season form, just having CJ Miles back on the team is encouraging. All these positive signs despite the fact that Kyrie Irving still hasn’t found his shot this season, meaning there is still further room for things to get even better.
There will be further setbacks. The Cavaliers will surely play more atrocious games this year. The team still hasn’t shown an ability to come out and play well on the road. Thankfully December has just 6 road games compared to 8 home games. This is the stretch where the Cavaliers, despite playing some really good teams, can reclaim their season and get things back on track.
Rather than looking at this two game win streak as proof of anything, I prefer to look at is as evidence of something. It’s an important sign of life at a point in the season when it was needed the most. But it can’t end here. The Cavaliers can’t afford to keep having big letdown games on the road. The Cavaliers need to keep building, keep getting better, and keep improving their chemistry and their effort. And it’s important for fans to remember that, while we analyze these teams on a game-by-game basis, in the grand scheme of an entire season two games (or even four games) is just a minor moment in time.
Fans in Cleveland are growing increasingly exhausted with talking about “process”, but if the Cavaliers are going to get better this year, everyone needs to embrace just that. It’s unlikely that things just get better overnight with a snap of the fingers. But nobody should blame the fans for rejoicing and celebrating this small victory. November was an awful month for everyone. The last two games provided some relief and demonstration that we weren’t all completely wrong. This team is capable of playing pretty decent basketball and capable of beating good teams. As long as they keep improving, all of this celebration and slight overreaction will all be worth it.
(Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)