By Brendan DeVenney
For the second time since this rivalry began, the Golden State Warriors have swept the season series against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the regular season. The last time this occurred was back in the 2015-2016 campaign. On Christmas Day that year, the Warriors edged out Cleveland, 89-83. And then close to a month later in January, Golden State rolled to a 132-98 win on the road.
We all know what happened later that year in June, with the Cavaliers knocking off the team from Oakland in The Finals. During the regular season that year, it looked like Cleveland was a mile away from contending with Golden State. At that point Cleveland was relying on bench play from James Jones, Mo Williams, Iman Shumpert, and Richard Jefferson. However, they did not acquire really anyone at the trade deadline. The only move they made was trade Anderson Varejao to Portland (who ended up with Golden State), and acquire Channing Frye from Orlando in a three-team trade. Cavaliers fans did not feel any more comfortable with where their team was at at that point in the season. Even in The Finals they almost got blown out of the waters going down 3-1.
So, can that team be compared to this year’s squad? It’s hard to tell, because they weren’t losing nine out of twelve games at this point of the season. Before their 2015 Christmas Day matchup with Golden State, the Cavaliers had won six in a row. Before their January matchup that season, they had won the past nine out of ten games. Yes, they’ve historically been in slumps in the month of January and into February, but not to the extent of this. And in my opinion, it’s because Kyrie Irving is not out on the floor.
When Irving was with Cleveland, the ball movement was ten times better. If Irving was on this year’s team, it’s a good possibility that the Cavaliers may had been able to pull out a win on Christmas Day this season. For the majority of that game, Tyronn Lue had Dwayne Wade leading the point guard position. The aging Wade contributed just 13 points in that game, a lot less than what Irving would have put up. In 2016-2017, Irving averaged 21 points against Golden State both in the regular season and in The Finals.
Now, Isaiah Thomas was not active for the Christmas Day game this year. The first year Cavalier came back to play against Portland in the first game of January, and in that game put up 17 points in 19 minutes. This past Monday night was his first taste of rivalry play against Kevin Durant and the Warriors, and in 32 minutes totaled 19 points. That’s respectable for his first big game as a Cavalier. However, there were times where he looked to score first instead of pass first. That’s mostly because he always had to be score first in Boston, since he didn’t have guys around him like LeBron James, J.R. Smith, and Kevin Love. With Irving, he’s one of the best in the league at working the offense, and has handles to pass for days. Thomas doesn’t exude that the least bit. That’s why LeBron James was putting triple-doubles like crazy in the beginning of the year.
James was worrying everyone in sports media about his minutes being played. He was averaging 36 minutes a night in the first two months of the season. Since then, that number has gone down. However, he can not do everything, and that’s been proven in the past. And with Kevin Love, J.R. Smith, Kyle Korver, Jae Crowder, and Dwayne Wade, this team still is not close to beating the Warriors.
That’s why this upcoming trade deadline is vital for the Cavaliers. With James’ mind up in the air about leaving Cleveland for the second time after this season, the time is now to win another championship.
However, it’s not going to happen with a divided locker room. According to Dave McMenamin of ESPN, after their 118-108 loss to the Warriors, “multiple players have acknowledged there is a growing discontent and a sense of concern. Unlike previous seasons, there is doubt as to whether the Cavaliers have the capacity to fix their current issues.” What has always worked in the past has been making deals at the trade deadline. This year could see the Cavaliers moving Tristan Thompson, who has not contributed as much as the team has hoped, and possibly not using the 2018 first round draft pick from Brooklyn. Iman Shumpert could also be in talks as well.
Some players around the league that Cleveland has shopped are Avery Bradley of Detroit, Kent Bazemore of Atlanta, and DeAndre Jordan from the Clippers. Jordan adds nice size to what is already a small lineup, and is a quality scorer. The problem there is that he has reported he “wants to be traded to the Rockets.” That’s legit given he did not play against Houston on Monday night.
The Cavaliers need to find an option here somehow and get a guy that can group this team together and have them play as a team. Everyone is trying to be a hero, but that doesn’t work when you have so many All-Stars on your team.