Random dribbles following the Cleveland Cavaliers’ thriller of a 120-112 road win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday.
1. It must be tough for the Cavs not to sit around and dream of the endless possibilities. This franchise has been re-energized and refocused, and suddenly has so many players who understand it’s all about fit.
2. The Cavs (34-22) have won four straight, three since the trade — with each of those final three coming on the road.
3. Interestingly, when the Cavs won the first game after the trade, I got more than a few tweets that insisted, “Yeah, big deal. They beat the Atlanta Hawks.”
4. Well, the Boston Celtics and Thunder aren’t the Hawks — and these aren’t the Cavs you knew, probably didn’t love and could barely stomach to watch at the start of last week.
5. No one seems to be enjoying all the changes more than the Cavs’ brightest star. LeBron James is the same player, but looks like a happier person on the court. He finished with 37 points, eight rebounds, eight assists. Suddenly, LeBron and the Cavs don’t need to fear playing on national TV. They have become the talk of the NBA, and finally, in a good way.
6. More than that, however, is how the new teammates have quickly adapted. George Hill seems like the perfect point guard for this team. He is used to playing alongside stars — such as all those big names back in his days with the San Antonio Spurs, then later Paul George with the Indiana Pacers.
7. Now, Hill is delivering the ball to LeBron, calmly setting up the offense and not having any hangups about playing off the ball. That’s important, because we know how often LeBron likes to control the pace and set up others. His penchant for bringing the ball up the court never really sat well with Kyrie Irving, or probably even Isaiah Thomas. But Hill doesn’t care. he’ll play anywhere. He just wants to win, baby.
8. Or how about Rodney Hood and Jordan Clarkson providing instant energy and fresh legs off the bench? Each scored an efficent 14 points, and it’s been a long time since Cavs fans got to witness such weaponry in reserve. These two could start for a lot of teams, but they understand their roles and seem to enjoy them. This is nothing new, either, as each and off the bench in his previous stop.
9. Of all four newcomers, however, Larry Nance Jr. may have been the best. Yes, the hometown guy whose father is a local legend. Nance scrapped, leaped, blocked and fought to the finish. Tristan Thompson started, but it was Nance who was there at the end. Players who are considered “energy guys” aren’t often so strong and so ultra-athletic. Nance showed all that and more on his way to 13 points, a team-high nine boards and a team-best three blocked shots.
10. All of this and we haven’t even mentioned J.R. Smith. He was the star of the first half. He finished with 18 points and fired away with great confidence. The old J.R. has returned. He has been reborn.
11. And hey, no one is complaining about Cavs coach Tyronn Lue these days. Lue isn’t really doing much differently. The only difference is the players. If there are any egos, they’re totally in check. No one seems to be playing for the next contract. No one is pointing fingers when things are less-than-perfect. No one is griping about anything.
12. It’s easy to coach good people who share a common goal. Today, that is what Lue’s job has become.
13. Now, are the Cavs suddenly a lockdown defensive team? No. Could they use another interior presence or two? Absolutely. Will things keep going this great for the rest of the season? Probably not. But even when things are bad, this team should never be as underachieving as before. This version of the Cavs is confident, stable, smart, whole.
14. LeBron on the win and the new guys: “It’s a change of scenery and they’re just trying to take advantage of it. For the guys that were here, we’re just trying to make them as comfortable as possible. Make the transition as seamless as possible.”
15. LeBron then offered some praise for Cavs general manager Koby Altman, the man responsible for the changes.
16. LeBron on Altman: “It just wasn’t working out for us. He made the changes he felt best fit our team. Then, it’s on me to make sure the new guys that come in, that they fit in. That’s my job. This is the third game in a row my voice is gone. So I am just trying to have communication at an all-time high for us.”
17. These are the new Cavs. They communicate. They have a very clear leader and it is very clearly his team. They don’t totally collapse when everything doesn’t go their way. Mostly, they have made Cleveland basketball tons of fun again — both for themselves and for their fans. And whoever thought we’d be saying that a week ago?
18. George led the Thunder (32-26) with 25 points. Carmelo Anthony scored 24. Steven Adams had 22 with a whopping 17 rebounds. Russell Westbrook went for 21 points and 12 assists. Make no mistake, the Thunder are a very good team. Just like the Celtics. The Cavs beat both in their own buildings in back-to-back games heading into the All-Star break. It should make for a really nice week off.