They were supposed to be the team of destiny, but in the first months of their campaign to finally bring a professional sports title to the Forest City, the Cavs looked like, well, the Cavs. Dysfunctional, plodding and, worse of all, distinctly un-fun to watch, the Cavaliers were barely mediocre in a conference where mediocrity was the gold standard. In the past three weeks, however, everything has changed. Here’s how ESPN’s story on last night’s victory over the Clippers began:
“Iman Shumpert softly played a harmonica in the locker room as his teammates dressed following a surprisingly easy victory. In one corner, LeBron James slipped on a tight black T-shirt with RWTW on the front….The initials stand for ‘Roll With The Winners.’"
Since an early-January swoon ended with the Cavaliers below .500, both the team and management have taken steps to finally get the team on track. The resting of LeBron, who looked very much like a human, allowed him to regain his supernatural form and become his dominant self again. The addition of J.R. Smith, Timofey Mozgov and Iman Shumpert has also been a huge factor, giving the Cavs the depth they were so sorely lacking since Anderson Verejao went out for the season. Most important though (besides a healthy LeBron on your team, which is the most valuable thing in basketball), has been the play of Kyrie Irving, who dumped 93 points over back-to-back games last week. This has more than made up for the play of Kevin Love, whose season has been an unmitigated disaster. Luckily for the Cavs, he took out all his frustration last night on the reeling Clippers, dropping 24 points and 9 rebounds. The Cavs have now won 12 in a row and are sprinting towards the two seed in the Eastern Conference, where they will most likely end the season (no one’s catching the Hawks).
What all this boils down to really is that the sentimental favorite of basketball fans everywhere is finally ready for prime time. LeBron’s decision to return to Cleveland took away any possible villainy associated with his image – he’s an amazing player with a real mission. And now he’s got a somewhat lovable supporting cast. From J.R. Smith finally focusing on basketball (due to his ill-founded belief that there’s not much of a party scene in Cleveland), to the surly Russian Mozgov, to Kyrie Irving’s cool confidence, and Iman Shumpert’s role as a feisty defensive stopper with a flair for the amazing. Given, their not as miraculous a story as the Hawks, but considering they’d be on a path to the championship that probably leads through Atlanta and Golden State, the Cavs will have to prove their mettle in possibly the most competitive playoff environment since the mid-nineties logjam of superstars were consistently bested by Jordan.
If you’re looking for a time to jump on the Cavs bandwagon, it’s now. With their superstar healed, a supporting cast finally primed, and the hopes of an entire city on the line, the Cavs have a chance to fulfill the destiny they were so surprisingly served this summer. And whether this wild ride ends in victory or spectacular failure, it looks like it’s actually going to be pretty fun – which is a lot more than we could have said a month ago.
To slightly modify the state motto: "With LeBron, all things are possible."
Photos by Rocky Winder/Getty Images