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. Well, they needed that one. The Cleveland Cavaliers earned a desperately-needed 91-87 win over the Charlotte Hornets Friday. It was far from a pretty win. Kyrie Irving shot just 8-of-27 from the field for 23 points while Dion Waiters was not much better, shooting 8-of-21 for 17 points. However, the bottom line is that the Cavaliers played gritty defense and were able to grind out a win, which is what they will have to do a lot of in the absence of LeBron James. Also, Kevin Love had a very efficient night as he finished 9-of-15 from the field for 27 points. It was arguably his best performance in a Cavalier uniform.
2. The challenge with James being out for two weeks with left knee and low back strains is that the road ahead is a difficult one. The Cavaliers face the Dallas Mavericks at home on Sunday before heading to Philadelphia on Monday. This is when things start to get dicey. On Wednesday, the Cavaliers will host the Houston Rockets, but then take a look at the road trip that awaits them: at Golden State, at Sacramento, at Phoenix, at the Los Angeles Lakers and at the Los Angeles Clippers. The Cavaliers do not return home until Monday, January 19, when they’ll be greeted by Eastern Conference power Chicago. That five-game road trip is going to be incredibly difficult, especially with James being out. A 3-2 record during the trip would be a gift, but a 2-5 or 1-4 mark seems much more realistic given how this team has performed in the early going.
3. Still, it’s far too early to hit the panic button. The reality is the Cavaliers are not who we or Las Vegas thought them to be. They’re not going to be running away with the Eastern Conference as many of us had hoped and expected. However, the situation is also not as dire as it may seem either. As I write this, it’s January 3, and the Cavaliers still have the fifth-best record in the East. They likely will never fall any further back from that point, and they still could have the potential to make some major noise once the postseason begins. Patience is a virtue, and every Cavalier fan has had his or her patience tested this season, but it’s something that needs to be continually emphasized. This is not going to just be built overnight.
4. The lack of a true, quality rim protector has been an ongoing challenge for this team. It’s hard not to love Tristan Thompson’s effort; he gives it his all on every possession. However, the reality is that Thompson is still just six-feet, nine inches and 238 pounds. When he goes against elite NBA centers, he is going to get crushed. That’s inevitable. The season-ending injury to Anderson Varejao has been something that this team has struggled with and will continue to struggle with as the season progresses. The contingent of Thompson, Brendan Haywood and Lou Amundson is not going to get it done. Sooner, rather that later, the Cavaliers are going to need to look to upgrade this roster.
5. With that being said, I would hesitate to move Waiters in any deal. It’s taken him some time to find his groove, but he seems to be well on his way. Did you happen to see his defense on Christmas Day against Dwayne Wade? The effort was just outstanding, and that’s been the case for Waiters in most games as of late. He’s also finally coming along offensively as well. In his last 15 games, Waiters is averaging 13.3 points per game while shooting .444 from the field. He’s not turning the ball over (1.6 per game), but is also contributing with assists (2.5 per game) and steals (1.5 per game). This is barely even the tipping point for Waiters as well. There is still so much room for growth, and he will continue to grow during this season and future seasons. He does make for an attractive trade bit, but it’s hard to believe the Cavaliers would receive fair compensation if they chose to move the talented shooting guard now.
6. Where do you go with the Cleveland Browns? What can even be said in regard to Johnny Manziel, Josh Gordon and Justin Gilbert? It’s sad to see the season end on such a sour note, especially because of how fun it was at times. Here’s a question I’ve been pondering as of late. How will Browns fans remember the 2014 season? Will they remember the blowout of Pittsburgh, the comeback against Tennessee and the Thursday night shellacking of Cincinnati? Or will they remember the collapse, the awful debut of Manziel and how three highly-touted players effectively chose to quit during the season’s final week?
7. My distaste for Manziel reached a new peak last week when Connor Shaw made his first start for the Browns against the playoff-contending Baltimore Ravens. In the game, Shaw completed 14-of-28 passes for 177 yards and an interception. He looked like what you would expect — a third-string quarterback. That’s where I get irritated though. Shaw was clearly prepared and looked as though he belonged in the NFL, albeit as a third-string player. That’s a far cry from what we saw from Manziel, who looked completely unprepared, out of place and overmatched. Furthermore, the entire team seemed to respond better to Shaw under center than they did in any of the six quarters in which Manziel ran the offense. Connor Shaw was undrafted for a reason whereas Manziel was the No. 22 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. At worst, one would expect Manziel to at least look prepared in his start, but we all know how that went.
8. It’s hard to say this season was a failure for the Browns as the team’s seven wins represent the most since the 2007 season when they went 10-6 and narrowly missed the playoffs. Still, the questions surrounding this team heading into next year are troubling. What do you do with Josh Gordon? Do you finally conclude that his off-field issues outweigh his talent and decide to cut your losses? What about Justin Gilbert? He clearly has lots of growing up to do, and can he really be relied on as a starting cornerback next season? Similarly, as I have already alluded to, quarterback remains a huge question mark as it seems to be every year. It almost like it’s the same story this offseason as it is every year, even following a season that might be described as a year of growth.
9. For all of the Browns that have received negative attention this season, one player who remains unheralded but did a stellar job was rookie guard Joel Bitonio. Along with the Cowboys’ Zack Martin, Bitonio was arguably the best rookie guard, and there is only more room for him to grow. That’s one positive for the Browns heading into next season. Provided that center Alex Mack is healthy, this team now has three cornerstones on the offensive line in Mack, Bitonio and left tackle Joe Thomas. It’s hard to do much better on the line at those positions, and they will certainly make things easier for whoever is ultimately tabbed as the Browns’ starting quarterback.
10. It’s been awhile since I’ve touched on professional wrestling, but I have to say how excited I am to see Impact Wrestling premiere on Destination America this Wednesday at 9p.m. The move to Destination America signals a fresh start for a company that has desperately needed it. Who knows how this will turn out, but it’s something that all wrestling fans should go into with an open mind. Financially, Impact Wrestling seems to be doing a bit better too as it has been locking up many of its top stars to contract extensions, including Kurt Angle, Mr. Anderson, Abyss, Madison Rayne, Jessie Godderz and EHC’s favorite wrestler Ethan Carter III. That’s a solid contingent to build upon, and Discovery Communications seem committed to making Impact Wrestling a vital part of its television strategy. I’m intrigued and optimistic that this turns out to be a great move for the company.