The Cleveland Cavaliers have lived up to their high expectations through the first two games of the season. After surviving a hard-fought and emotional contest with the Boston Celtics, they thoroughly outplayed the Milwaukee Bucks Friday night. Though there are many new faces on the team, and those new faces have to learn how to play with one another, Cleveland’s potential this year is obvious. After Gordon Hayward‘s brutal and disheartening injury, which in all likelihood will leave him sidelined for the rest of the season (best wishes for a speedy recovery!), Cleveland can take the first seed without too much difficulty, allowing time for the role players to jell.
LeBron James, first of all, has shown no signs of slowing down. He backed up his terrific opening night line of 29 points-16 rebounds-9 assists with another solid performance against the Bucks. James is averaging 26.5 PPG, 10.5 RPG, and 8.5 APG, on .629% shooting thus far. It is the start of another MVP-level season for 32-year-old, who continues his remarkable track record of durability.
Derrick Rose sprained his ankle on a hard foul last night, but is not expected to miss much time beyond the team’s next game, and has offered glimpses of what he can offer the Cavaliers. Rose drives hard to the basket without fear, and that skill is especially useful in the moments when James is on the bench. He hit a long three pointer at the buzzer on opening night—adding a three-point shot this year would make Rose even more of a threat.
Dwyane Wade has struggled in his first two games, and that is a reason for concern. Wade’s playing style—which at this point basically means launching tough midrange jump shots over defenders—was never conducive to Cleveland’s system. The Cavaliers want their players to cut and set screens, freeing up space for passes and drives from James. Wade, who cannot shoot the three or drive well at his 35 years of age, is simply not the best fit for this roster. Calls for J.R. Smith to start in his place at shooting guard have already begun, and should be expected to increase in urgency should Wade’s issues continue. He is averaging just 6.0 PPG, 2.0 RPG, and 3.0 APG, on 294% shooting. Ouch.
Jae Crowder, on the other hand, seems to be settling in just fine with the Cavaliers. The 27-year-old has provided much needed wing defense to help LeBron rest, and spaces the floor quite well with his three-point shooting. He has shot .500% from the court, and .429% from three. Though those numbers are almost sure to fall a bit, Crowder, nevertheless, is a player who could have helped to make the Finals a lot closer.
Cleveland has significantly more depth this season, a fact that has become evident to anyone who watched the first two games. With players like Smith, Tristan Thompson, Kyle Korver, and Jeff Green on the bench, the Cavaliers’ second unit is right up there with the league’s best. When point guard Isaiah Thomas returns to action, and Rose becomes Cleveland’s sixth man, the Cavaliers will be even stronger depth-wise.
The Cavaliers are the second best team in the league right now. But will their current roster be enough to contend with the Warriors come June? If the New Orleans Pelicans continue to struggle, expect the DeMarcus Cousins whispers to get a whole lot louder.
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