By Tony Cartagena | ESPNCleveland.com
Photo/AP - Tony Dejak
Updated at 11:46 pm EST
CLEVELAND – James Jones emceed a pregame ‘thank you’ to all fans in attendance prior to tip-off. On behalf of the Cleveland Cavaliers he extended holiday wishes and coined them the ‘best fans in the NBA.’
A tad cliché, yes. Not sure any team would address the crowd and say thanks for being mediocre.
Either way, the Cavs actually produce a product worth the $40 price tag to park your car and $6 splurge for a jumbo kosher hot dog – because at home, the Cavs are virtually unbeatable.
Following a Jan. 7 loss at at The Q last season, they went unbeaten at home until Apr. 10.
This year, they’re already 8-0 in Cleveland after defeating the Orlando Magic, 117-103, to conclude a three-game home stand.
The Cavs’ have a “all for one, one for all," slogan that’s applicable to teammates, fans, game day operation crews and essentially everyone involved in creating this one-of-a-kind experience 41 times a year, plus playoffs.
While the team is introduced and a mini movie plays on Humungotron, the players themselves huddle together as one. A new pregame ritual of sorts that LeBron James said, last week, is for the team to focus on the task at hand while letting the fans enjoy this first-in-class entertainment.
This slogan applies to on-court performances as well. The way that their roster is assembled, there’s firepower at nearly every position. So when others are struggling, the potential for another player to catch fire is highly possible. When the offense lags, defensive energy sets the pace, and vise-versa.
With the second-highest payroll in league history, after luxury taxes kick in, that’s the way it should be.
Kevin Love personified the mantra, and more, against Orlando. He carried the team, the coach, even the security guards while scoring a season high 27 points in the first-half alone, including 20 in the second quarter. Someone better carry his bags to the car post-game.
Love finished with 34 on 11-of-18 shooting and collected eight rebounds.
"Just found a good rhythm," Love said of his new Cavs' career scoring high. "My shot has felt great. It just hasn't quite dropped like it was tonight - at least from the perimeter."
At one point he swished back-to-back-to-back three-point shots on consecutive possessions. That shooting myriad came in the midst of him scoring 17 straight points. All in a night’s work.
When this team is fully healthy, 30 point games by any one superstar player won't be the necessary prescription for victory. A balanced scoring and efficient attack will be. But they're still playing without four of their top eight rotational guys. Matthew Dellavedova is battling through a leg injury severe enough that head coach David Blatt said he would have sat if Kyrie Irving or Mo Williams were available to play.
He answered that call with 15 points, nine assists and zero turnovers.
"There's an awful lot you can say about that kid but I guess he is simply a winner," head coach David Blatt praised. "Plays to win. Gives you everything he has."
The team dished out 34 assists on 43 made field goals. A stat Blatt said he was thrilled with. That type of ball movement is a sign of team chemistry and unselfish tendencies that will be crucuial for long term success.
"We're doing a really good job the last few games, every single one of us, going from a good shot to a great," Love added.
These superb individual performances are quite the luxury during this team recovery period. .
They are desperate for healthy bodies. Yet still winning.
Ask any player about their home-court advantage and they'll credit having the fans "the best fans," behind them. Rightfully so. Seating 19,000 plus on a Monday night is rare around the league today.
On a fastbreak dunk attempt during the first quarter, James was fouled hard and hit the hardwood with a loud thud. The crowd collectively gasped and it seemed that all of the oxygen inside was vacuumed away until James stood.
James said afterwards that you cannot fault a player for trying to make a play and he was okay following the hard fall.
It's evident that the players care. You can see it when a player of James' caliber gets up after a hard foul and continues to compete. They're determined to end Cleveland's championship drought. The fans care just as much. They've been waiting more than five decades for this.
Everyone is invested, which is a direct reflection of Owner, Dan Gilbert, literally investing.
This team - not just one specific individual - but the whole bunch is definitely worth the price of admission. They make sure of it on a nightly basis.
Tweet of the night
"Honestly that gives me chills to even hear that. That's an amazing amazing accomplishment. There are a lot of obvious things, most points scored in a career. Most rebounds for a career. But, when you are talking about the highest number of points and assists combined, you're speaking about such rarified air." - David Blatt
"I was the one that told him. He has done it his whole career. One of, if not the most, unselfish superstar player in the game. It doesn't surprise me. He goes out there every night and competes and shares the ball and finds myself and everybody else. The scoring has always been there for him but he's, by nature, unselfish. That's pretty good company there." - Kevin Love
"I've been very blessed to be with a lot of great teammates and two great organizations that allowed me to do some unbelievable things. Obviously with the assists, without my teammates over the years making shots, then I don't get the assists. It's very humbling to see my name linked with Big O (Oscar Robertson). Someone that I have always kind of admired." - LeBron James
By Tony Cartagena | ESPNCleveland.com
What if the Cleveland Cavaliers played on Sundays?
Imagine that LeBron James, Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving and company traded in their Nike basketball shoes for football cleats, shoulder pads and spat.
Love would definitely require a full cage face mask and shield to protect the patented GQ look.
Roger Goodell is probably pre-addressing envelopes to send James a weekly bill for ripping the sleeves off of his uniform, and possibly adding in a uniform violation fine for his shoes being too bright.
Think about the exuberance in Jim Donovan’s voice when calling passing plays for receivers who are tall and athletic for a change. Quite the novel concept.
There would be a rejuvenation for tenured beat writers and exhausted fans. An incentive for their years of undying loyalty and passion. Dare the words ‘championship aspirations’ be uttered at 76 Lou Groza Blvd?
Don’t forget about J.R. Smith’s touchdown celebrations either. Can you say 15-yards for unsportsmanlike conduct?
The renaissance of personnel if the Cavs roster swapped and took over for the Cleveland Browns would cause general manager Ray Farmer to hit send on some interesting text messages to head coach Mike Pettine.
Scratch that. Let’s not pretend like James wouldn’t call his boy Urban Meyer to take over the reins in Berea.
Disclaimer: The league isn’t for everyone. Some guys are too tall and too slow. Some are too skinny and others simply just aren’t mean enough. No offense to them, basketball is their calling. But, a few Cavs are capable of doubling up.
Quarterback: Kyrie Irving (6-foot-3, 193 lbs) Duke University.
Irving wasn’t a household name at the quarterback position when he declared for the draft following his redshirt sophomore season. A foot injury in college limited him to just 11 games – but in those appearances he was able to show flashes of a natural Houdini act in the pocket and possesses a touch pass like none other. Durability will be a question, but, his upside is too promising to pass up.
NFL comparison: Seattle Seahawks’ QB Russell Wilson. Both players are elusive and deceptively quick. Irving is not afraid to poke his head around the land of the giants and take a hit. Creativity is on another level and will extend plays due to an extremely high athletic IQ.
Running back: Mo Williams (6-foot-1, 198 lbs) University of Alabama
Williams isn’t the bulkiest back, but he is shifty. He’s bounced around the league a lot during his career but non-use over the years still leaves a little tread left on the tires and he could be an asset for a championship contending team. He’ll hit the hole hard for short gains and can be a work horse if need be.
NFL comparison: Baltimore Ravens’ RB Justin Forsett. Williams and Forsett found second chances at the professional level later in their careers. Forsett was a safety valve for the Ravens at 29 years old when they signed him as a third-stringer. But, when the opportunity presented itself, Forsett filled the starting role nicely. Williams athletic DNA contains the same attributes.
Tight end: Kevin Love (6-foot-10, 251 lbs) UCLA
The biggest misconception about Love is that he’s not naturally athletic. Completely false. Love is unbelievably strong and will be near impossible to jam at the line of scrimmage. He’ll also be Mr. Dependable finding the weakness in the middle of a zone defense. His hands are good and continually improving. A tight end that can post-up a linebacker has Hall of Fame potential written all over him.
NFL comparison: Dallas Cowboys TE Jason Witten. A big strong tight end who is also misjudged when it comes to speed and athleticism. Love, like Witten, will be a QB’s favorite target, especially in the red-zone. It’s not always pretty, but he’ll get the job done.
Wide receiver: LeBron James (6-foot-8, 250 lbs) Ohio State University***
Receivers aren’t usually taken with the No. 1 overall pick in fantasy or reality. James is the exception. He’s fast, and built like a truck. He’s proven, but works like an undrafted rookie. He’s the best receiver in the NFL, hands down. If we have to pin-point a weakness, then his route running could use some fine-tuning and if he commits a turnover there’s no chance he hustles back to try and make a tackle. Athletic freak on the field. NFL Man of the Year off of it.
NFL comparison: If Dez Bryant’s physique merged with Calvin Johnson’s skills and Randy Moss’ natural ability then you might come up with James’ NFL doppelgänger. He could be Terrell Owens without the headache and motivational drive of Jerry Rice. Hey Cris Carter, you have some Buckeye brethren to enshrine in Canton in a couple years.
Defensive end: Tristan Thompson (6-foot-9, 238 lbs) University of Texas
Thompson flew under the radar while in school because the Texas football program was in serious decline. At the combine he proved to be one of the most aggressive defensive ends in the pot and that’s why he was drafted so high. He’s not going to single handedly win football games – but he’ll get his hands on just about every pass thrown to his side. And if it’s tipped up for grabs, interception guaranteed.
NFL comparison: St. Louis Rams’ DE Aaron Donald. Both young and exciting players – although some of their ability and worth get lost in the shuffle of playing with great peers. In the long-run both will receive big paydays because their sometimes under-valued contributions are priceless to championship aspirations.
Linebacker: Iman Shumpert (6-foot-5, 220 lbs) Georgia Tech
He’ll have to bulk up to a bit – but a relentless workout regimen and hard working attitude will pay off. He’s fast and athletic so he’s able to contain running backs inside and set the edge. If forced to drop into coverage, his frame and speed makes him more than capable, although not desired. Most effective as a pass rusher.
NFL comparison: Green Bay Packers’ LB Clay Matthews. Both converted tight ends who dedicated a few seasons to adding weight and learning their new position, Shumpert is a game-changer because of his versatility and marketable because of his bravado. Shumpert’s agent will have to work out a haircare endorsement comparable to Matthews’ with Head and Shoulders.
Safety: J.R. Smith (6-foot-6, 225 lbs) Local combine tryout
A little tall for the position, but Smith is a player who packs a ton of power and definitely someone you don’t want to be a defenseless receiver against. During one of his individual workouts he threw an inadvertent elbow that severely injured an opponent. On accident of course, but speaks volumes to his grit and toughness. Underrated athleticism. His only downfall will be his ability to stay low key off the field.
NFL comparison: Denver Broncos S TJ Ward. Both hard hitters who will draw a few unnecessary roughness penalties and even hit a quarterback late once or twice. However, the risk is definitely worth the reward especially if surrounded by mature vets like James and Love. If either Smith or Ward score on a pick 6 – get the fireworks and dance music ready. Entertainers at their core.
Kicker/Punter: Matthew Dellavedova (6-foot-4, 198 lbs) Australian Futbol Club
Let’s just say, if a returner thinks he’s going to spring one into the endzone, think again. Dellavedova will take the proper angle and unleash his rugby-style toughness to unload a world of hurt. He’s also a threat for the fake punt because he’s extremely accurate throwing the ball. He is the active emergency quarterback in case something happens to Irving and Williams. Ready when called upon no doubt. There are some questions surrounding his pregame drink – which he claims is just coffee – however the league is investigating. Slowly, of course.
NFL comparison: The league has never seen anyone quite like Delly.
Just think if this was an NFL roster. Or even your fantasy football roster. I’d start them all in Daily Fantasy leagues too.
The Cleveland Cavaliers football chapter claiming the Super Bowl LII Championship in Minneapolis, MN (close enough for Cleveland fans to pile in the car and drive) has a nice ring to it.
*** Questions regarding improper benefits in high school led to ineligibility at the collegiate level although he verbally committed to OSU. James sat out for three years, training, resting his body for the league.
By Tony Cartagena | ESPNCleveland.com
CLEVELAND – Kyrie Irving is inching closer and closer towards his eventual and highly anticipated return.
There’s a new buzz around the Cleveland Cavaliers. A team that currently holds the best record in the Eastern Conference while playing without their 23-year old all-star phenom. Just this past week fans caught their first glimpses of Irving, this season, while he took-part in pregame shooting workouts about 40 minutes prior to tip-off.
His shooting stroke is still intact. ESPN’s Dave McMenamin reported that Irving and LeBron James squared off in a “one-dribble” one-on-one drill where Irving got hot from the outside to best James in the first few games.
More than just his trademark Uncle Drew commercials, Irving has seemingly made a conscious effort to entertain the crowd, and his teammates, during games as well.
Throughout the Cavs’ current three game home stand Irving looks to be significantly more energetic on the bench. Cheering, participating in choreographed celebrations with teammates, and, showing off his arm strength by tossing a few free t-shirts into the crowd. We think he’s aiming for Loudville but he’s not quite there yet.
Head coach David Blatt addressed the slow, but surely, acclimation of Irving as he transitioned from rehabilitation, and watching and practicing from the sidelines during practice, to taking part in offensive drills without defense and absorbing light contact from trainers.
“First of all it’s a good thing. A very good thing,” Blatt said with a hopeful like smirk knowing that the return is nearing. “It tells you that he is getting closer and closer. He recognizes that his time is coming. I don’t know that it’s right around the corner but I do know that he’s on the floor working with his teammates five on zero, he’s playing a little with contact one-on-one with some of our staff and players. He feels more part of it.
“When you’re sitting on the side and you’re not able to participate in drills or even in part of a shoot-around you get a little bit removed from it. He’s becoming immersed again with the team and you see that in his activity level. It bodes well for us and for him. Obviously we miss him.”
No one misses the court more than Irving. That much is for sure. But, he’ll return when he can, without hesitation, resorting back to his old ways of strong drives in the lane and George Mikan drill-esque finishes around the rim. Maybe a 50 point game, or two, like last season.
Only time will tell, youngbloods.
By Tony Cartagena | ESPNCleveland.com
Photo/AP - Tony Dejak
Updated at 11:42 pm EST
CLEVELAND – Someone should remind the Cleveland Cavaliers that resorting to the “next man up” isn’t actually supposed to work. And, if by some fluke it’s successful – it’s not supposed to be this effective.
Teams missing four of their top eight rotational players shouldn’t – under any circumstance – appear that they haven’t skipped a single beat.
Mo Williams is out with a strained calf muscle. Timofey Mozgov is benched for the next two weeks after suffering a strained shoulder. Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert have been out since the beginning of the season and don’t have return dates yet set in stone. Publicly anyways.
LeBron James took six shots in the first half and only had five points at the break. He finished with 19 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists.
No way that a team this battered and bandaged should compete at this high of a level. Especially with their far and away best player outputting a pedestrian performance, yet, somehow nearly messing around and getting a triple-double.
Get the memo on David Griffin’s, Dan Gilbert’s and David Blatt’s desks immediately! Like, yesterday.
The sad, yet encouraging, reality check for Cavs’ fans occurred last season when James earned NBA Finals Most Valuable Player votes because he heroically carried the team to two victories in the series without Irving or Kevin Love on the floor.
Credit management for their dedication and investment towards a winning product.
Credit the players with producing at and above expectations.
"We went through a year last year where we put ourselves in a great position and had a tremendous season and a tremendous opportunity and we fell prey to the lack of depth.
"We addressed it this summer and obviously up to this point in the season it has paid off."
Gilbert issued a blank check for general manager Griffin to ensure that the teams’ depth wouldn’t be compromised for James’ second year back in Cleveland.
The second highest pay-roll in league history – after luxury taxes are billed – is proving to be a successful remedy for a team focused on playing well into April, May and June.
Tristan Thompson started in place of the injured Mozgov. Fans can criticize his new $82 million contract and holdout all they want – no one cheers less because of it. His 12 first half rebounds and knack for extending plays with tap outs are undoubtedly paying off. His night ended with 16 boards and nine points.
Matthew Dellavedova - playing through a leg soreness - is starting for Williams who is starting for Irving. His assist to turnover ratio this season is nearly six to one-and-a-half. He was also re-signed this past summer.
Dellavedova and Thompson also have the “delly-oop” down to a science.
"We just didn't have anybody left. He just had to tough it out," Blatt praised of Dellavedova's consistent grit.
Anderson Varejao has been used rarely, but when called upon is as impactful and gritty as ever. The elbow jump shot has been falling for him lately too.
Not to sound like a broken record – but the non-guaranteed training camp contract of Jared Cunningham is paying dividends as well - he contributed eight points in 20 minutes.
Picking up on the theme yet?
J.R. Smith had the opportunity to make more money elsewhere, but he returned to Cleveland mirroring the goals of everyone in the organization.
The golden Larry O’Brien NBA Championship trophy.
"No matter who is in the lineup we need to play Cavs basketball the right way," James said.
Kevin Love casually contributed his standard 25 points and 11 rebounds. He and James still possess quarterback and wide receiver rapport on fast-break outlet passes for dunks – even flipping the script on one instance tonight with Love catching the touchdown pass.
"(James) is usually the receiver. He could have been a pro receiver in the NFL," Love said. "I'm not usually one to catch those.
"I'm a tight end."
Can we add to the front office memo that players with surgically repaired shoulders probably aren’t supposed to play some of the best basketball of their careers just 13 games back?
Reserve players have solidified themselves as legitimate substitutes. Star players are consistently playing like stars should.
Deepest team in the league? Maybe. A roster pieced together like a puzzle that probably doesn’t require any further transactions. Absolutely.
The Cavs will only continue to get better. They’ll show flashes of greatness and continually learn from mistakes throughout the process that is an 82-game season.
Oh yeah, they defeated the Atlanta Hawks Saturday night, 109-97, although the final score didn't accurately depict that the game was never really in jeopardy.
Quote of the night
"He was frustrated. He knew we weren't playing right. Thought we were playing hockey. A hockey sub.
"LeBron is a lot of things. A lot of great things. But, probably where you're not going to see him is out there playing for the Monsters."
- Coach Blatt on James' technical foul in the third quarter for going to sit on the bench after a team turnover, during play, without being subbed out.
James said afterwards that he just "blew a gasket" and apologized to his teammates for his actions.
By Tony Cartagena | ESPNCleveland.com
CLEVELAND – In regards to timetables for injured players returning to the court, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst is removing himself from the speculation ring.
Forecasting was in full go-mode when point guard Kyrie Irving took the court for a light shooting workout approximately 40 minutes before the Cleveland Cavaliers took the floor against the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday night. This marked the first time Irving stepped in front of fans in basketball attire and worked out.
He looked solid. By the blind eye he was 16-of-20 from three-point range and absorbed light contact well on fade away jumpers from the elbow. Irving wasn’t running full speed. Or cutting. Or exerting much pressure on his surgically repaired right knee cap. He’s capable of doing those things – to what degree we are still not 100 percent sure – however, they weren’t on full display during this shooting array.
Windhorst previously reported that Irving was participating in practice scrimmages, mainly three-on-three with the amount of actual contact unknown. During his weekly one-hour show with ESPN Cleveland, Windhorst redacted that news and apologized for the error.
There are still reports swirling of Irving wanting to return before the Cavs’ game on Christmas Day and others claiming that mid-January remains the target.
He told ESPN’s Dave McMenamin that there was a “light at the end of the tunnel,” but wouldn’t release a specific date.
Even when medically cleared and mentally ready to play at the highest level again – it’s in the best interest of Cleveland to sit him for an additional period of time after that as a preventative injury measure, according to Windhorst.
By Tony Cartagena | ESPNCleveland.com
Photo/AP - Tony Dejak
CLEVELAND - The jerseys were retro. The music, the emcee's and the psychedelic vibes inside Quicken Loans Arena all paid homage to the 1970's.
Sticking with the theme of the night the Cleveland Cavaliers reverted back to how they were playing early last week, looking how they did while tallying eight wins in a row - now ending a two-game slide with a 115-100 win over the visiting Milwaukee Bucks.
LeBron James was festive enough to wear a pair of his second Nike signature shoe, the Zoom II's - for the first half at least.
Lost in the Cavs' recent success and hoopla surrounding other teams is James' overall MVP caliber performances in every game this year. On just 13 shots he scored 27 points and had nine rebounds and six assists.
The stat everyone has been tracking lately is his foul shooting. James shot 8-of-9 from the line - a statistic even he seemed pleased with.
The Cavs were too tough on the boards and too efficient on the offensive end, out-rebounding Milwaukee 43-22 and assisting on 29 of their 40 made field goals. Matthew Dellavedova - starting in place of an injured Mo Williams - led the systematic approach with 13 dimes and just three turnovers.
"Offensively obviously we were very good," head coach David Blatt said afterwards. "We were taking the right shots. The good news is a good approach and a great competitive spirit.
"We can still get better."
The latter point being the most important. During that two-game hiccup the Cavs voiced internal frustration with the output of killer instinct and aggression on the floor.
Players mentioned taking the necessary steps to be 'meaner' on the floor. Blatt said following the loss in Detroit that they needed to "toughen up," as a collective unit.
There was even some back-and-forth in the film room where, reportedly, a generally mild-mannered coach Blatt emotionally expressed where he saw the need for improvement.
"It's not about what I said, it's about what they did," Blatt added. "Those guys came with real purpose tonight. You saw it on them. You saw it in their approach."
Kevin Love's father was in the crowd - wearing a t-shirt with his sons face on it. Love said afterwards how his dad is funny and so much fun to be around and he was happy to have him in Cleveland, especially on 70's night because that is the era when he played. The two used to play one-on-one and Kevin wasn't able to beat him until he was 15 years old.
Love made pops proud, scoring 22 points on 7-of-15 shooting and grabbed a game high 15 rebounds.
Anderson Varejao wishes that his playing time came under better circumstances - replacing an injured Timofey Mozgov - but he made the most of his rare opportunity this season, scoring nine points in 11 minutes and didn't hesitate or shy away from his trademark elbow jump-shot.
Varejao said afterwards that his leg is still not 100 percent but continues to get stronger day after day. Practice reps and game action will be the true test of his health and rehab. He remains positive and porfessional - ready to go whenever his number is called.
Mozgov didn't play in the second half because of what the team is calling a strained right shoulder. Blatt didn't have a post-game update but said Mozgov will have a "picture" done on it as a precaution.
Neither Mozgov or Williams are expected to miss an extended period time.
Kyrie Irving is still a couple of weeks away from returning to action. But - for the first time this season - he did shoot around in front of fans and the media approximately 30 minutes before tip-off. He shot three-pointers from all five spots on the perimeter and then worked on fade away jump-shots with light contact by a shooting coach.
Blatt assured that upon Irving's return, there will still be well deserved minutes allocated for Dellavedova and Williams.
Jared Cunningham also made vital contributions off the bench - none more video-worth of this highlight crossover...
Michael Carter-Williams, you all right? Jared Cunningham crosses up the Bucks PG, who falls to the floor...hard. https://t.co/V19MDK7SOZ— ESPN (@espn) November 20, 2015
The Cavs will not practice Friday and start game-plan preparations for Saturday night's home matchup against the Atlanta Hawks.