Let’s get this out of the way first: David Blatt got screwed. The Cleveland Cavaliers, best in the East, poised for another NBA finals run, fire their head coach just days before he earns an All Star debut.
This, when his starting point guard has missed most of the campaign so far. A travesty.
But that doesn’t mean his replacement, Tyronn Lue, can’t find improvements or make useful changes going forward – with his fourth chance to tweak coming on Friday when the Cavs visit the Detroit Pistons.
Lue claims he will ask for greater fitness to demand a greater pace. No shock when his team, still athletically-gifted, rank 28th of the 30 teams in pushing the ball with only 92.8 possessions per game. And while that might translate into a respectable 101.6 points per night, that they sit almost 14 less than the Golden State Warriors does suggest a criminal under-achievement from the talent available.
Switches won’t come overnight. Irving is not yet at full steam. Kevin Love is not close to meshing potential with production. Even with a powerful front line, Cleveland is only 20th in points obtained in the paint. If Lue can unlock Love and Tristan Thompson, it should give a reliable offensive option, even on those nights when Irving is held back.
As with everything, it all eventually falls back to LeBron James. Defensively, he has held back at times. With even a minor improvement, the Cavaliers should be laughing with their 95.9 points conceded per night an already elite base.
Lue has promised more accountability. If Blatt had one failure, it was not demanding substance as well as style. Now out to 3.75 for the title, Cleveland have huge strides to make to live with the Warriors. Karma might kill off their hopes but it’s not time to write off their dreams.
With the best record in the East, expect a little revenge for their 104-99 loss in Detroit earlier this season. But with San Antonio their foes on Saturday, more work will be required to complete the necessary upgrades, with the Spurs worth a look at -2.5.
Best bet: Go under 198.5 total points in Detroit – Cleveland at 2.95