Let’s lay this down: the Cleveland Cavaliers don’t deserve to be the NBA title favourites any more. And unless they can pull off a trade to fill in their hole in the middle, it’s looking like LeBron James will not be bringing a championship home to Ohio in 2015.
Still equal at 3.50 with the San Antonio Spurs to rule the league next June, the Cavs are already missing Anderson Varejao more than they could have imagined.
In their first outing since the Brazilian’s season was ended by injury, Christmas cheer was in short supply on James’ return to Miami with the Heat inflicting a crushing 101-91 defeat.
It’s left Cleveland without the post presence their strategy desperately needs. Kevin Love was inserted at centre but had just 14 points. The perennial All Star has frequently looked like a man in love – pun intended – with the perimeter. In contributing an abysmal 16.8 per night to date, keeping him in the paint threatens to take the free agent-to-be even further out of his comfort zone.
Coach David Blatt has the luxury of James – averaging 27 over his last 10 games – but with Kyrie Irving’s production dipping to 16.9 over his previous 10, there are red flags aplenty as they skip north for tonight’s trip to the Orlando Magic.
The hosts are 2.55 to pull out the upset and even though Nik Vucevic can be expected to profit inside, the Magic – with only one win in five – don’t have the firepower to knock the Cavs further into the mire, with Blatt catching a break amid a forthcoming five-game stretch that includes woeful Charlotte, Milwaukee and Detroit.
But after that, it starts heating up. And without some able reinforcements, you can bet rest of the NBA will be thinking this is a title very much up for grabs.
Best bet: Take Cleveland at -6.5 on the handicap against Orlando.