10 Orbservations is a regular Saturday piece at Everybody Hates Cleveland where EHC Managing Editor Steve Orbanek offers 10 quick sports takes, both on Cleveland topics and national ones.
1. On Thursday, right before the Cleveland Cavaliers were about to take on the New York Knicks in their season opener, my wife turned to me and said, “You’re treating this game like it’s a Super Bowl.” I laughed at first. But guess what? She was right. Heck, everything about my actions on this night were uncharacteristic of my normal behavior. I even asked my wife to take a selfie with me while we both were wearing our LeBron James jerseys. I hate selfies. Loathe them. Yet something about this game, and this particular moment, made me want to capture us, even if it were in the form of an attention-grabbing photo. I’ll never forget all of the hoopla surrounding Thursday’s game. The scene outside the Quickens Loan Arena, the introductions, the Nike commercial — all of it was tailor-made for a Hollywood movie. Over the next three hours, I would cry, yell, jump and remain silent. No regular season game in any sport has ever had that kind of effect on me. I doubt another ever again will.
2. For as special of a night as Thursday was though, it’s clear that James was not himself. In 43 minutes, he finished 5-of-15 from the field with 17 points and eight turnovers. Not only did James look passive — he looked nervous, a trait he has not exhibited much since his first season with the Miami Heat. Perhaps the best thing about this game is that it’s now over, and the Cavaliers, their fans and the entire city of Cleveland can move on. We all knew that James’ first game back home was going to be big, but it’s safe to say that it exceeded even our own expectations. That’s probably true for James too as his performance shows that he clearly was feeling the pressure. Though in James’ defense, in his first game in a Miami Heat uniform four years ago, he also had eight turnovers. Jitters, even for six-foot, eight-inch, 250-pound phenoms, are inevitable, and that’s what you can chalk this game up to.
3. Thankfully, the Cavaliers looked like an entirely different team on Friday night in Chicago. Paced by James’ and Kyrie Ivring’s scoring as well as Tristan Thompson’s gusty rebounding, the Cavaliers earned a 114-108 overtime win over the Bulls. James finished with 36 points, eight rebounds and four assists. For as good as he looked, it was what we could call “quiet dominance,” as Irving and especially Thompson really stole the show. Irving finished with 23 points while making 10-of-10 free throws and Thompson added 16 points and 13 rebounds, including 12 offensive rebounds, which tied a franchise record. Thompson’s performance was simply dominant. Almost all of his buckets were second-chance points, and he just killed it on the offensive glass. This will be an area where he continues to excel this season as he will continue to get so many opportunities. Irving also was stellar in the contest. Some of his looks were off, but there was no timidity to his game. When he saw an opportunity, he took it, and it’s good to see that he still maintains that trait, even knowing that he now plays alongside the best player in the world.
4. For those unaware, Derrick Rose sprained his ankle in the second quarter of the contest. He exited and later returned, only to leave the game for good in the fourth quarter. A sprained ankle is normally not a serious injury, but Rose has basically missed the entirety of the last two NBA seasons. This was the main reason why I said it was somewhat haphazard to believe that the Bulls should be the favorites in the Eastern Conference as Rose’s health is always such a wildcard. Now, here we are, only two games into the season and Rose has already suffered an injury, albeit a minor one. It just does not seem to be a sound strategy to hitch your wagon to an injury-prone star like Rose. The Bulls did look good in the contest, and they do have a more-than-capable backup point guard in Kirk Hinrich, who torched the Cavaliers on Friday. Still, the injury concerns that fans had in regard to the Bulls and Rose are already revealing themselves, and that’s telling.
5. In other Cavalier news, the team re-signed Anderson Varejao on Friday to a three-year, $30 million deal with the final season being non-guaranteed. The deal kicks in next year and could keep Varejao in a Cavaliers’ uniform through the 2017-18 season. Now ask yourself this. In 2004, when the Cavaliers received the rookie Varejao along with Drew Gooden and Steven Hunter in a trade for Tony Battie, did you ever believe Varejao would have a chance to be a lifetime Cavalier? That just seems so unconceivable to me. Last night during the game, there was a graphic that noted that Varejao was the longest-tenured professional athlete in the city of Cleveland. I’m not entirely sure, but I would garner to guess that the Cleveland Browns’ Joe Thomas is probably second on this list. Remember how during the past four seasons, Varejao’s name was almost always brought up in trade discussions? However, it now looks as if we won’t be hearing any trade rumors involving Varejao anytime soon. Varejao will always be remembered for his grit and toughness; few players are more competitive when they’re on the court. For his career, he has averaged both 7.8 points and rebounds per game. He’s not one of the greatest Cavaliers ever, but he will certainly go down as one of the most popular.
6. Speaking of contract news, the Cavaliers were unable to reach a rookie-scale extension with Thompson before the Oct. 31 deadline passed. Any team can now sign Thompson to an offer sheet this offseason. The Cavaliers will then have the right to match any offer sheet that he receives. According to Cleveland.com, both sides valued Thompson differently during negotiations. The interesting thing here is that Thompson happens to be represented by Rich Paul, who is also the good friend and agent of James. There is no telling how that factors into things, but one would believe that Paul would want Thompson to remain in Cleveland. It will be interesting to see how this shakes out next offseason because there will be plenty of teams willing to overspend for Thompson and his services. Very few players have the ability to grab 12 offensive rebounds on any given night.
7. I suppose I should touch base on the Cleveland Browns. Yet clearly, I am already knee deep into the Cavaliers and NBA. As you all know, the Browns earned what was somewhat of an ugly win last week when they defeated the Raiders 23-13. The game was actually more lopsided than the score indicates as the Raiders earned a garbage score in the game’s final minutes. Overall, quarterback Brian Hoyer was 19-of-28 for 275 yards and one touchdown. It was very much a Hoyer-like performance, and wide receiver Andrew Hawkins had another solid outing as he finished with seven receptions, 88 yards and his first touchdown as a Brown. In many ways, the Raiders game was key as the Browns were able to rebound from a rough loss against the Jacksonville Jaguars, and they proved that they can grind out a win. That is key in the NFL, especially when you play in the AFC North and conditions are often less than ideal. For the Browns to remain in the hunt, they will have to win a few more games like this down the stretch.
8. Even though the Browns won, something has to be done in regard to the rushing attack. For the game, the team finished with 39 yards on 25 carries. That’s simply atrocious and equates to 1.6 yards per carry. Where in the hell is the team that rushed for 191 yards, 122 yards, 176 yards and 158 yards in games against the Steelers, Saints, Titans and again Steelers, respectively? The one noticeable difference is the loss of center Alex Mack as the running game has sputtered ever since he was lost for the season in the second game against Pittsburgh. Still, can one player have such a drastic effect? It seems outlandish, but this seems to be the case here. Oakland entered last week’s game ranked 29th against the run, but the Browns could not muster anything. Perhaps it’s time for offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan to go back to the drawing book and create some design runs that allow Ben Tate, Terrence West and Isaiah Crowell to get to the outside. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, tomorrow’s opponent, rank 18th against the run and surrender 4.1 yards per carry, so there should be some room here. Simply put, the Browns cannot endure back-to-back weeks of poor rushing performances while playing middling NFL teams.
9. This is not a Cleveland subject, but I want to say how enamored I am with San Francisco Giants left-hander Madison Bumgarner, who also now happens to be the World Series MVP. Bumgarner was electric in the series and is the main reason why the Giants defeated the Kansas City Royals, four games to three. I remember when Bumgarner was a lauded prospect with the Giants. I immediately took a liking to him; his size, delivery, stuff — he had it all. Remember game four of the World Series in 2010? As a 21-year-old rookie, Bumgarner threw eight shutout innings to lead the Giants to a 4-0 win over the Texas Rangers. In other words, 2014 was not Bumgarner’s first rodeo and dominating in the World Series is nothing new to him. Amazingly, Bumgarner just turned 25 on August 1. Guys like Clayton Kershaw and Felix Hernandez receive all of the credit, but Bumgarner is quickly establishing himself as one of the best arms of this generation. It’s been fun to watch, and considering his age, this may only be the beginning.
10. As always, I implore you to give Everybody Hates Cleveland a follow on Twitter at @EvrybdyHatesCLE. I genuinely believe that right now is a very special time to be a Cleveland fan, perhaps one of the most special times ever. We look forward to hopefully providing good, engaging content during this ride.