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. Another night. Another win for the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs avenged an earlier loss to the Sacramento Kings last night with a 101-90 win at the Quicken Loans Arena. If anything, it was almost a boring victory, but who says there’s anything wrong with those? The Cavaliers were not really ever challenged throughout the contest and led the entire way. Sure, the Kings are far from one of the NBA’s elite teams, but it says something about how a team has been playing when their latest win is described as “boring.” The key last night was defense as the Cavaliers held the Kings to a 35.7 percent shooting percentage (30-of-84). Defense has been the calling card for the Cavaliers as of late as the team has not allowed an opponent to score more than 100 points in their last seven games. This new commitment to defense coupled with the team’s acquisitions of Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert has had a radical effect on this team. Translation? We’re now seeing a title contender emerge right before our eyes.
2. LeBron James made his return last night after missing Wednesday’s game with a sprained wrist. In 33 minutes, he finished with 19 points, seven assists, three rebounds and four steals. It was somewhat of a tame performance for James, and he was clearly still feeling the pain in his wrist; he shot just 7-of-16 from the field. But the irony is that James was listed as doubtful for the contest up until 45 minutes before tip-off. This comes after Wednesday night in which James was a game-time decision but has since said there was no way he could have played that evening. Cleveland.com’s Joe Vardon touched on this in a piece this morning. Essentially, the point Vardon makes is that James seems to always disagree with whatever head coach David Blatt says. Even when it comes to minutiae things like game status, the two are never on the same page. Yet, but here’s a question EHC’s Jim Pete recently probed to me? When has James ever really been on the same page with a coach? It certainly was not that way with Paul Silas or Mike Brown. It just seems like an instance where we might be making too much of something that’s rather insignificant.
3. Tonight, the Cavaliers face the Minnesota Timberwolves in what will be Kevin Love’s first game in Minnesota since being traded to the Cavaliers this past summer. Fan reactions are going to be nasty, and probably deservedly so. Love made it clear this past year that he had no intention of re-signing in Minnesota, so that pretty much secured his status as a public enemy in that city. To be fair, Love’s response to this all has been totally refreshing. He is well aware of the boos that will be heard tonight, and he’s taking it in stride. He even got a good kick out of a video produced by the Wolves that totally trolls him. No player on the Cavs this season has fallen under more criticism than Love, and that will probably always be the case considering that the team parted with No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins to acquire him. That said, he seems to always be an utmost professional, and don’t look now, but his defense is starting to come along nicely as well.
4. Just one day after torching the Portland Trailblazers for 55 points, the second-highest total in the history of the Cavaliers, Kyrie Irving was selected as an All-Star reserve. It’s an honor he really deserves, especially considering how he has stepped up his play this season. The numbers (22.1 ppg., 5.2 apg, .469 shooting percentage) speak for themselves, but Irving’s renewed commitment to defense has been one of the prime reasons that this team is playing such good ball. His performance on Wednesday was probably the biggest highlight of the season so far for this team, but did you happen to notice him on the other end of the floor? Given that he was carrying the team by himself offensively, one might expect him to take a defensive possession off, but that could not be farther from the truth. He’s still only 22 years old and is radically improving in every facet of the game. Provided he stays healthy, it’s going to be scary to see what he brings to the table two seasons form now.
5. Including tonight’s game, the Cavaliers have seven games left before the All-Star break: at Minnesota, vs. Philadelphia, vs. Los Angeles Clippers, at Indiana, vs. Los Angeles Lakers, vs. Miami, at Chicago. Aside from maybe the Chicago road game, the Cavaliers should be favored in all of these contests. So, in an ideal world, the Cavaliers would be riding a 16-game win streak into the All-Star Break. Okay, so it’s never good to get that far ahead of yourself, and I may have just jinxed this team, but think about that for a minute. It’s a testament to how far we have come in just a month’s time! On Sunday, January 4, General Manager David Griffin gave a vote of confidence to David Blatt and then the team proceeded to lose six straight games. Yet, then, a handful of moves were made, James returned, and this team finds itself in the midst of a nine-game win streak. It’s just been one helluva month for this team, and it serves as a reminder of how quickly things can change. Which is another reason why it’s not good to look so far ahead…
6. For a look at just how much the Cavaliers defense has improved during this win streak, consider this point, which was made today by Cleveland.com’s Terry Pluto in his regular column. Before the recent nine-game winning streak, opponents were shooting .471 vs. the Cavs. That was the second-worst defense in the NBA. In the last nine games, it’s dropped to .424, which is the second best in the NBA. What’s most exciting about this all is that I don’t think we’ve even seen the tipping point. Iman Shumpert is still working his way back into game speed, and is going to be getting more minutes as he gets back into shape. Couple his defensive contributions with those of James, Mozgov, Tristan Thompson and even the surprising Smith, and it’s easy to see a bright future for this team.
7. So, that Josh Gordon letter. Where to begin? I’ll start by saying that upon reading it, I immediately took it for what it was: a brilliant public relations move. Through precise wording and storytelling, Gordon positioned himself as the victim, and he probably saved face with a lot of Cleveland Browns fans. For me, my reaction is more mixed. It’s impossible to dispute some of the points that Gordon makes, provided that they are all true. But here’s the thing, after one point or another, a person loses credibility. That happened with Gordon a long time ago, even if there are unique circumstances surrounding his failed drug tests. And yet, while I may not know Gordon, I do question if this letter was genuine, and here’s why. I trust my eyes, and I know that what I saw in the final six games of the season was not a “genuine” performance. I do not have to know Gordon to draw that conclusion. The fact is that he has more talent than almost any wide receiver in the NFL, and he chose to mail it in over these final six games, even oversleeping and missing a meeting. Ironically enough, none of that was addressed in that letter.
8. Sources revealed this week that Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater did not want to play for the team because he knew everyone in the Browns organization was not on board with him. The Browns’ organization was reportedly mixed with supporters of Bridgewater and then others who supported Manziel. The sad truth is that Manziel already has a ways to go if he is to catch up to Bridgewater’s status. In 12 starts, the former Louisville quarterback went 6-6 for the Vikings and threw for 2,919 yards with 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. His 64.4 completion percentage was third highest by a rookie in NFL history, behind Ben Roethlisberger and Robert Griffin III. He had a quiet season, but it was an effective one nonetheless. It looks like he could be on his way to being a successful NFL starter whereas Manziel still remains a wildcard in every way possible.
9. I have been adamant in my belief that the Cleveland Indians’ fifth starter’s spot this year needs to go to Danny Salazar. I am still adamant about that. However, I realize that I never took into appreciation the type of season that T.J. House had in 2014. In 19 games and 18 starts, House went 5-3 with a 3.35 ERA in 102 innings. He also posted a FIP of 3.69 and an xFIP of 3.10. Perhaps most impressive though was his groundball percentage of 60.9. Yep, you read that right — 60.9 percent. Without a real out-pitch, House is guy who must rely on finding his spots, and he certainly did that in 2014. When the Indians signed Gavin Floyd for $4 million, I was somewhat perturbed because I knew that House would probably be the odd man out. I am now even more perturbed, but I am tempering that with the fact that I know injuries will eventually hit this rotation, and House is going to be needed. That said, I am now officially riding shotgun to Jim Pete on the T.J. House bandwagon. I’ve always loved myself a nice left-handed starter, and I happen to think there’s more than meets the eye with House.
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