After a frustrating start to the season the Cleveland Cavaliers have now won two straight to make it back to .500, and the biggest reason is they are learning to play through LeBron James. The Cavaliers rolled past the Washington Wizards 113-87 on Wednesday night behind an impressive game from James. The King, as he is referred to, was two assists away from a triple-double. He finished the game with 29 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists. He possibly could have got the needed assists but he sat out most of the fourth quarter with the Cavaliers up big.
Cleveland brought in a slew of new faces all centered on James’ return back to northeast Ohio. Kevin Love was acquired through a trade and Kyrie Irving received a $90 million extension. They are deemed as the new Big Three. But through the first three weeks or so of the season the three were struggling to adjust to their new roles.
Irving is no longer the lone All-Star on the team. He has to adjust to utilizing his teammates, an option that was never there before with the sub par talent that surrounded him in previous seasons. Love was leaving his role as the big fish in a small pond in Minnesota to become the third option in Cleveland’s bigger pond. James had to adjust to a new level of growing pains. No longer does he have the luxury of having two savvy veterans like Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh just as he had in Miami.
Two superstars who had never played in a playoff game trying to coexist with a stud who is arguably the best current player in the world that already has two NBA titles is going to have some stumps early on. Cleveland definitely did. They fell to 5-7 after losing four straight, including to the Wizards back in Washington a week ago. But it seems the team has found out what works, as the Cleveland Cavaliers are learning to play through LeBron James.
It is a simple recipe. Forget how many superstars they actually have, there is only one megastar. For the Cavaliers to get where they want to be in June, at the NBA Finals, they must run their offense through James. It is no coincidence they have won two straight with him having big games. On Wednesday versus the Wizards James set the tone early on. He contributed on all 11 of the Cavaliers made field goals in the first quarter by scoring 12 points and adding five assists, sparking an 18-2 run that gained control of the game.
From there the Wizards had to bring help for Paul Pierce to defend James. That opened the floor for the supporting cast. James, who is more naturally a passer than he is a scorer, picked apart the Wizards defense. He got everyone going for Cleveland, and as a result they cruised to the 26-point win. While it is an adjustment for Love and Irving, allowing James to be the tone setter and focal point in the offense should continue to be the blueprint for Cleveland.
The proof is in James’ stats. In seven losses this season James averages 19 points per game while taking 16 shots a game. In seven wins, he averages 31.6 points while taking 20 shots a game. In return he adds about 2.4 more assists in wins versus losses.
By allowing James to dictate the offense it keeps his engaged in the game, and over the long haul will make Irving, Love, and others more efficient. The Cavaliers score close to 26 points more a game in their seven wins versus seven losses, and adds about nine more assists in those wins. Their previous four-game losing streak forced the Cavaliers to go back to the basics, and the basics are LeBron James, LeBron James, and LeBron James. By the looks of their past two games, the Cavaliers are learning to play through LeBron James.
Commentary by King Motley
Basketball-Reference – LeBron James Stats
Basketball-Reference – Cleveland Cavaliers Stats
Photo by Keith Allison – Flickr License