Sunday, Feb. 24, was a disappointing night for the Cleveland Cavaliers. After putting up a valiant fight against the Miami Heat, they would end up falling late in the game, done in by none other than LeBron James, the man who broke Cleveland’s heart three years ago.
It was a bummer for the the Cavaliers and their fans, but it came with a silver lining: the Cavs held their own against one of the best teams in the NBA. More importantly, it didn’t come as a huge shock that they were able to do so. The Cavaliers are finally starting put things together and in the future, they will be a very scary team.
The Cavaliers were doomed to be a lottery team right shortly after the season started. Kyrie Irving went down with an injured finger and the team floundered without him, not putting up much of a fight. The Cavaliers were already near the bottom of the East and it was going to be at least another year until they would have a shot at a playoff spot. Just when Irving returned and the team finally look settled, they suffered another loss, this time to Anderson Varejao, who developed a blood clot and will be out for the rest of the season.
At this point, the Cavaliers just appeared to be snake bitten. It was impossible for them to ever have their two best players on the court at the same time. With all these constant problems, how could the team ever get better?
In recent weeks, the Cavs have shown more resiliency than some of their harsher critics might have expected. Second-year forward Tristan Thompson is finally living up to his potential and has emerged as one of the better young power forwards in the game this season. He’s currently averaging 11.2 points and 9.2 rebounds per game, along with 19 double-doubles. Thompson was considered to be taken a little too high when the Cavs grabbed him fourth overall in 2011, but lately he’s proven the doubters wrong. He’s a talented player and he’s only going to get better as his skills continue to develop.
Rookie center Tyler Zeller has also been impressive lately. When Varajao went down, Zeller was thrust into the starting lineup. At first it appeared this would severely hurt the team’s play. After all, Varejao was a top-10 center, while Zeller was an unproven rookie who wasn’t even taken with a lottery pick. Surely, only utter chaos could ensue by putting him in the starting lineup. Instead, he’s been a reliable presence at the 5, keeping what could have been a very messy situation afloat. Zeller isn’t putting up the numbers that Varejao did, but he’s been quietly effective and it’s clear that he has the potential to become a great center in the future.
The bench has looked better recently, too. Marreese Speights was an excellent pickup and he has thrived as the Cavs’ first big off the bench. Since arriving in Cleveland, Speights is averaging 12.5 points and 6.2 rebounds in just 21.6 minutes per game. After showing hints of what he could in with the Philadelphia 76ers and Memphis Grizzlies, Speights has seriously raised his game since joining the Cavaliers. It makes you wonder what he might be capable of if given a starting role. He obviously has a lot of talent; he may have finally found the right place to utilize it.
The Cavaliers are 8-6 since Jan. 22 (the same date they acquired Speights) and they look like a tough young team who won’t be an easy out for anyone. Irving is the superstar who could lead them to glory, but his supporting cast has quietly gotten much better and it won’t be long before this team becomes a legitimate playoff contender.