“The Top 8” is an ongoing weekly column focused on the NBA… And more importantly my favorite NBA team, the Cleveland Cavaliers! For any and all installments, click here.
When we left the Cavs last week they were 5-1 and the best team in the East.
Week Three featured four games, and an ultimately imperfect record… But they’re still the best team in the East both by record (8-2) and differential (+7.2). At the time of this writing there are two teams with better differentials in the game, the still-unbeaten 11-0 Golden State Warriors and their monstrous +16.3 and the seemingly ageless San Antonio Spurs at +10.6; the Spurs, though, hold a slightly inferior 7-2 record.
Spoilers! The Cavs went 3-1 during Week Three, which isn’t too shabby… But I’m again a little concerned about the quality of competition. They faced the Pacers (6-4), Jazz (5-5), Knicks (5-6), and Bucks (5-5)… So no really distinguished teams yet.
Game Seven: Pacers at Cavs 11/08/15
ESPN Headline: James scores 29 despite bruised quad as Cavs beat Pacers
I guess James did in fact score 29 points… But it was on 23 shots; he was not even the leading scorer of the game. That honor went to Paul George with 32 (here’s to hoping George ends up awesome once again). Kevin Love was actually the monster of this game, scoring 21 points while pulling down 19 rebounds. Jeez! Besides those boards, KLove also had a game-high three blocks.
Outcome: Cavs by 4
The Top 8
Game Eight: Jazz at Cavs 11/10/15
ESPN Headline: James scores 31, sparks comeback as Cavaliers beat Jazz
LBJ did in fact score a game-high 31 points.
My God Mo Williams had an offensive game. 8-9 from the field and 9-10 from the charity stripe? That is some peak Dwayne Wade performance right there. The scary thing is that when Kyrie comes back he will — as would be logical for a max contract number one draft pick — re-ascend to his position in the starting lineup… Mo will probably be able to absolutely feast on opposing second teams!
I’m a little overall wary of the Cavs lineup though. Right now two of the five best Cavs are point guards (Mo and Delly). You have to figure one or both are going to sacrifice minutes to Kyrie (which is fine if Kyrie can return at All-Star level)… But! It’s not like minutes and positions are fungible. The best players on the team are (unsurprisingly) Tristan at PF and LBJ at SF… Rounded out by the resplendent KLove also at PF.
My all-time favorite Cav Anderson Varejao is not playing like anything to write home about this season, and Mozgov has been slightly below replacement level so far. If you want to play Best Six basketball (you know, like in the playoffs [unless you are GSW or SAS]) I don’t know if you want three of those six to be your three shortest players.
It’s possible this is one of those situations where my good friend Patrick Chapin says people grouse about the $100 bill you hand them because they don’t like how it’s folded.
Outcome: Cavs by 4
The Top 8
Jeez Mo Williams. All-Star Game #2?
Game Nine: Cavs at Knicks 11/13/15
An utterly accurate headline; the Knickerbockers thumped the Cavs 30-17 in the second frame, and were consequently up by six going into the fourth. The Cavs held New York’s Finest to twelve — 12 — points in the fourth quarter; and that was all she wrote.
Outcome: Cavs by 6
The Top 8
Ew. What a gross game.
Timofey — the best player in Cavs-at-Knicks — would not have been the fifth best player in the preceding Jazz game. Everyone played awful. Love scored seven points on ten shot attempts; not even his eleven rebounds could salvage such poor shooting. LeBron only needed 21 shots to produce 31 points, but he was uncharacteristically low on rebounds (while heavy on fouls). Tristan only made four points on — again ew — four shot attempts.
If there is a shining light — for Knickerbockers fans at least — it’s that Zinger looks like he is going to be a real NBA player.
Game Ten: Cavs at Bucks 11/14/15
ESPN Headline: Bucks outlast Cavs in 2OT as LeBron James held in check late
This is the kind of game that makes you hate sports narratives. Hate HATE HATE. The Cavs got the rebound with about eight seconds left and the game tied at the end of the first of two overtimes. The ref called an inadvertent whistle from the Cavaliers bench. David Blatt did not call timeout!
LeBron had the ball with almost eight seconds on the clock. Is there anyone in all these planes of Dominia who thinks he wouldn’t have at least picked up a foul with Hero Ball on the stack? Yeah, me neither. Bucks get a stop on the not-fast-breaking Cavs, win by three in the second OT 🙁
Outcome: Bucks by 3
The Top 8
Like I said… I can’t stand sports narrative sometimes. Love and James played great (along with Greg Monroe of the Bucks). What the “Top 8” doesn’t tell you is that those PGs I was bragging about earlier? Mo put up all of four points on eight shots; Delly zero on three; they did have three and four turnovers, respectively. So basically most of the boys had relatively weak games. Even Mr. Consistent Tristan Thompson only had four rebounds (but three personal fouls). To look at the box score you could reasonably stomach a loss here… But knowing about the bad whistle kind of ruins it all.
The Top 8 is produced via Simple Models of Player Performance + Box Score data from ESPN.com