October 24, 2014

Medina
Mostly clear
40°F

Red-hot Cavs making strides

It’s been awhile since “red-hot” and “Cavaliers” have been used in the same sentence, but it applies right now.

The red-hot Cavaliers have won three straight games and four of their last five as they prepare to host David Lee, Steph Curry and the rest of the Golden State Warriors tonight at Quicken Loans Arena.

Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson puts up a shot against Boston’s Kevin Garnett. Thompson has been playing well as of late and so are the Cavaliers. (AP PHOTO)

The last time the Cavs had a three-game winning streak was from March 7-11 of last season. The last time they won four in a row was when they recorded eight straight victories from March 12-24, 2010, when LeBron James was in uniform.

Cleveland also has won three straight at The Q for the first time since Nov.

16-27, 2010. The last time it won four in a row at home was when it captured seven straight from March 4-April 6, 2010.

The recent hot streak has raised the Cavs’ overall record to 13-32, which still began the week as the third-worst in the 30-team NBA behind Charlotte and Washington.

Also of note, the Cavs needed a deep 3-pointer by Kyrie Irving to win by a point in Toronto on Saturday and had to rally from a 20-point third-quarter deficit Friday at home against Milwaukee, so it’s not like they have been blowing opponents off the floor.

But regardless of how they’ve been winning, they have been winning, and the Cavs haven’t been able to say that too often over the last three seasons, when they’ve posted a cumulative record of 53-140.

The key to everything has been Irving, who last week earned a spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star team and Monday was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week.

The 6-foot-3, 191-pounder, who does not turn 21 until March 23, had scoring totals of 32, 35 and 40 points in Cleveland’s three most recent victories, an average of 35.7 points. Beyond that, the second-year point guard shot a sizzling .612 from the field (41-for-67) and .950 at the line (19-for-20) in those games.

As good as Irving has been — and he’s been sensational — he’s gotten help from guys like Tristan Thompson, Luke Walton, Shaun Livingston, Marreese Speights and Wayne Ellington.

Thompson, like Irving a second-year pro, averaged 17.7 points in the three victories and is up to 10.8 points and 9.2 rebounds for the season. He is now shooting .491 from the field and .630 at the line.

More important than numbers, Thompson appears to be “getting it” as he prepares to celebrate his 22nd birthday on March 13. Just when some regular followers of the team were starting to whisper the word “bust,” Thompson’s game suddenly took off when Anderson Varejao went down with a knee injury.

Whether that was because Thompson realized he had to do more or merely a coincidence isn’t really all that important. For the Cavs, the only thing that really matters is that Thompson is becoming a guy who can be counted on every night.

Walton, who turns 33 on March 28, looked like he was stealing a paycheck early in the season, but he had become Cleveland’s most inspirational player in recent weeks until missing the Toronto game with a sore left ankle.

The 10th-year pro had seven assists in back-to-back games against Milwaukee and Boston, but his true value to the Cavs can’t be measured in numbers.

Prior to his injury, Walton had been diving on the floor for loose balls, jumping into passing lanes and often running the offense for the second unit from the power forward position, which made him almost like a coach on the floor.

Once the subject of jokes, the classy and hard-working Walton has won over tons of fans in Northeast Ohio with his mental and physical toughness, not to mention his desire and willingness to work.

Livingston, who is playing on a totally rebuilt knee, has been similar to Walton, though not quite as impactful. The eighth-year pro hasn’t produced any eye-popping numbers outside of a season-high 12 points Friday against Milwaukee, but he’s been a willing defender and intelligent player who rarely makes a mental mistake.

Speights and Ellington, acquired last week in a trade with Memphis, hadn’t even gone through a full practice with the Cavs until Monday, but the young veterans have already become fixtures in Cleveland’s rotation.

The 6-10, 245-pound Speights has had games of 10 and 17 points for the Cavs, while shooting guard Ellington put the Cavs up with a 3-pointer against the Bucks and made three of them against Toronto.

Speights is a lock to get significant minutes the rest of the season, while coach Byron Scott will continue to find ways to use Ellington as long as the fourth-year pro continues to produce.

Put all this together and what does it mean? Everything, nothing and something, really.

Everything because the Cavs added a pair of young veterans who know how to play, and because the team has finally started to show signs that it understands the importance of defense and can perform down the stretch of close games.

Nothing because it’s only been a handful of games and there have still been too many negative signs — like falling behind Milwaukee by 20 — to say the Cavs have turned a corner.

And something because the Cavs, who had to start somewhere, are at least showing signs they are finally making strides.

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com.