While they didn’t make any big moves at the trade deadline, the Cleveland Cavaliers made news by significantly bolstering their roster with the playoffs on the horizon. LeBron James finally got the playmaker he asked for when former All-Star point guard Deron Williams arrived after he was waived by the Dallas Mavericks. The franchise then jumped for a rim protector in former Number 1 Draft pick Andrew Bogut and a solid bench player in former No. 2 pick Derrick Williams.
With all these additions, the Cavs appear like the deepest team in the NBA with a roster that boasts 13 players who could see significant playing time in the playoffs. They have the ability to go big or go small without worrying about any line-up being noticeably weaker. Any combination the Ohio outfit put on the court is going to trouble any team in the league.
Deron Williams gives Cleveland another ball handler and great passer, two departments which are crucial for a team whose shooters struggle to create their own shot and rely so much on off-ball movement and assists. The veteran happens to be great at making his own shots and gives defences another weapon to worry about when guarding the Cavs.
The 32-year old has been the biggest surprise of the team’s acquisitions, having a much larger impact than anticipated. In his eight games with Cleveland, the younger Williams has averaged 10.5 points on 55.8% shooting in 24.9 minutes per game.
The addition of Andrew Bogut on the other hand was definitely not made with offensive production in mind. Averaging a career-high 10 boards per 36 minutes, the Aussie offers the side much needed rim protection and defensive rebounding, an area previously relied on solely by Tristan Thompson.
The new faces help take pressure off their star duo LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. The pair have been playing 37.6 and 35.1 minutes per game respectively, indicating that fatigue could be a factor later in the campaign. For James, that’s the most mileage since his last season with the Miami Heat.
With James and Irving not having to shoulder the load to the same degree at the tail end of the regular season, they’ll be much fresher when the Cavs will really need them in the conference finals and beyond.
The race for the top spot is wide open
The race for the Number 1 seed in both conferences looked to all but wrapped up before the All-Star break, but things can change in a hurry in the NBA. The Eastern Conference race was blown open when Boston beat Cleveland in a thriller, while the Warriors have stumbled after Kevin Durant’s knee injury.
The Celtics sent a message to the Cavs in Boston with their win, making sure the champions know they’re not going to cruise through to a rematch with the Warriors in the Finals. Isaiah Thomas led his team in scoring with 31 points and showed his hops with a block on Tristan Thompson in the fourth quarter. Not even a LeBron James triple-double could help the Cavs take home a W in a contest that had a playoff-like atmosphere and intensity to the match.
The biggest problem for Boston is Cleveland. Already three and a half wins behind them on the ladder, LeBron’s men are just getting used to their new additions, Deron Williams was enjoying his first outing and were it not for a last ditch shot from the fresh acquisition, the proud Celtics would have been embarrassed. How tight these encounters can be.
Heading out West, the Golden State Warriors have lost two consecutive games for the first time since 2015 after their defeat to Chicago on Saturday. The Warriors fell 94-87 in their first fixture without Kevin Durant following a knee injury suffered in their previous loss at Washington.
With that 146 streak broken, the Warriors look more vulnerable now than they have in almost three years. The Splash Brothers Steph Curry and Klay Thompson were cold in the loss, going a combined 3-22 from behind the arc. The rest of the team weren’t much better as the whole team went 6-30 from deep.
In seasons past, there would be games where Curry and Thompson would fall short but the Warriors would always stay in the game thanks to a deep bench. With the signing of Durant in the off-season, Golden State drastically reduced their depth and it showed against the Bulls.
With Durant likely out until the playoffs, the title favourites are going to have to find a way to win without relying on making threes. Otherwise the San Antonio Spurs, who are just three games behind and flying under the radar in true Spurs fashion, might just sneak into that top spot.