We’ve all heard about how good LeBron James and Co. have looked in practice, but they are going up against Cleveland’s second and third units so they’re supposed to dominate.
Enter Maccabi Tel Aviv as a sparing partner. The preseason game wasn’t close — Cavs won 107-80 — but it offered a window of what to expect this season in Cleveland.
Cavaliers first-year head coach David Blatt knows Maccabi real well, having led the pro club to the 2014 Euroleague title. It was the crowning achievement of Blatt’s coaching career so far. He took a Maccabi squad that wasn’t considered among the elite clubs in Europe and turned it into a winner in a short amount of time.
That’s what attracted the Cavs to Blatt, and LeBron, owner Dan Gilbert and general manager David Griffin are all hoping Blatt can pull off the same trick in Cleveland.
Blatt’s first and most important job is to get in sync with LeBron. Oftentimes coaches try to impose their way without the input of the franchise’s best player. Blatt’s first move should be to make LeBron be as comfortable as possible. James is a playmaking power forward who prefers to work from outside-and-in, meaning he wants the ball above the 3-point line or just above the free throw line. That’s where he did most of damage when he was with the Miami Heat.
Part of the reason why LeBron wanted the Cavs to trade for Kevin Love was because Love is not a low-post player. He prefers to stand behind the 3-point line, which opens up the paint for LeBron. Basically, Love will take over the role of Chris Bosh.
If LeBron is Blatt’s ace card then Kyrie Irving is the wild card. LeBron said at the start of training camp that Irving is the point guard of the team and the ball will be in his hands most of the time. That was a standard response from a veteran guy who is smart enough to know he can’t rock the boat at this point in the season. He did the same in his first season in Miami, and deferred too much to Dwyane Wade. But make no mistake about it, the Cavaliers are LeBron James’ team. Not Kyrie Irving’s team. This is not a Batman and Batman situation like it was in Miami. LeBron is Batman and Irving is Robin.
It will take an entire season, including the playoffs, for LeBron and Kyrie to get on the same page.
Defensively, the Cavaliers have some work to do. James will find out this unit doesn’t cover the same amount of ground as his Heat teams did. Irving and Love are not known for their defense, and it could take an entire season for Blatt to get everyone playing on a string.