Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
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VIDEO: Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal discusses the state of the Cavs
> Don’t look now, but the Cavs are on an 11-game streak and seem to have figured out a thing or two about winning in the last few weeks. What has made the difference for this team, and will it last?
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I’m tempted to say sheer time – y’know, the weeks and months many of us talked about that Cleveland would need to get all its who’s, what’s and how’s in order (and then impatiently ignored). Clearly GM David Griffin’s moves to acquire Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert have helped. But to me, it was LeBron James’ two-week spa shutdown. James got himself right mentally and physically, while delivering a not-so-subtle message about what life without him might be like again. He came back rejuvenated and the Cavs’ players and coaches closed ranks around him.
Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: A Healthy LeBron and a healthy defense. In the last nine games of the streak the Cavs have held opponents to under 100 points and shooting no better than 44 percent.
Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: It’s too easy to say giving Dion Waiters, the Josh Smith of January, an outbound ticket changed everything. As bad a fit as he was in Cleveland, he was not a central figure on the court. But sometimes trades have emotional impact. It can put pressure on the remaining players that they are out of excuses. And other times, it’s simply a matter of time. The Cavaliers had a lot to figure out and needed time. I was surprised how much figuring out was necessary and how bad things got, but thought it was a team still capable of a playoff run. Kyrie Irving and LeBron James are going good while playing together. This isn’t the end result, but it’s a very encouraging midseason progress report for the Cavs.
Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Well, the main difference is LeBron. Back from injury, and back with a vengeance. He’s more aggressive, unforgiving and business-like than before. The secondary force, of course, lies from the two trades which may have saved the Cavs’ season. Timofey Mozgov is the big fella they needed, especially defensively, while J.R. Smith is very willing to take big shots (and sometimes makes them). If Iman Shumpert can still D-up, the Cavs might be streaking for a while.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The improvement has been on both ends of the floor, and it starts with LeBron James. Upon returning from his eight-game absence, he took on a bigger load offensively (his usage rate is up) and made more of an effort defensively. When he’s engaged, he’s still the best player in the world. The addition of Timofey Mozgov has also helped the D (the Cavs have allowed less than 93 points per 100 possessions with both James and Mozgov on the floor), and the subtraction of Dion Waiters (the team’s least efficient scorer) also helped the O.
Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The main difference is the tweak the Cavaliers have made to their pick and roll defensive coverages and the way … haha. Come on, you know LeBron James has made the biggest difference for this team in their turnaround. The moment he returned from his injury/rest and rehab hiatus he’s been a different player and the Cavaliers have been a different team. For all the bellyaching folks did about him he appeared to be something other than engaged early on, LeBron is locked in right now. He’s smart enough to know that he can make the difference for a team with aspirations of being a contender (check the rear view for what’s going on in Miami). When he’s plugged in and energized, everything the Cavaliers do looks different and, for the most part, much better. You are welcome David Blatt. Sincerely, LJ.
Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Doesn’t it all come down to LeBron’s good health? When fully active he’s able to help everyone else look better, on defense especially. And isn’t it funny how we’re not hearing complaints about David Blatt’s supposed weaknesses anymore …
Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Well, there’s one pretty clear difference that kicked in right around the time this streak started, and his initials are LBJ. But other than being 11-1 since LeBron returned from injury, the main thing I see is that now the Cavs are playing with real speed. After a wobbly start, they’re the running, pace-setting team we expected they would be when they began their extreme makeover this summer. They’ve scored at least 100 points in 11 of their last 13 games and are good enough defensively to have held their last nine opponents under triple figures.