That is the amount of time since the city of Cleveland has been able to lay claim to a professional sports championship. Fifty-two years of long, agonizing pain for most Cleveland sports fans. However, a dawn seems to be coming.
This year’s Cleveland Cavaliers look poised to be the city’s best chance in the past couple decades to defeat a sports curse that has plagued the town for the better part of the past century.
The Cavs came as close to a championship in 2015 as any Cleveland team since the Indians lost in the bottom of the 11th inning in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series to the Florida Marlins. They lost in six games to the Golden State Warriors in a series in which they were hampered by injuries, playing without stars Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving.
This year, the Cavaliers have had their ups and downs. Former coach David Blatt was fired about a month ago despite leading the team to a 30-11 record to start the season. Assistant coach Tyronn Lue was promoted to the head role, and the team is 10-4 since the move.
Lue’s promotion, seemingly, was put in motion in order to counteract the Warriors’ offensive juggernaut, as many expect the two teams to meet again in the NBA Finals come June. Lue has stressed a more up-tempo offense, and it’s worked, evidenced by an increase in scoring from 101.4 points per game to 107.3 under the 38-year-old rookie coach.
Although the team did not necessarily have bad conditioning before the coaching change, Lue has stated on many occasions that the Cavaliers need to get in better shape.
This is something Cleveland will need if it goes up against the Warriors — a team that averages an astonishing 115.0 points per game and usually has five players on the court who can run in transition.
One thing the Cavs have focused on is incorporating Love into their offense more. At times, Love looked out of place in Blatt’s offense, and he was visibly frustrated when he did not receive the ball.
Under Lue’s offense, Love has seen an increase in touches, both in the post and at the elbow.
Love is especially dangerous at the elbow, where he is able to hit the mid-range jumper. In the post, he has success backing down his defender for a baby hook near the block or pass to open shooters like J.R. Smith and Richard Jefferson that spot up on the 3-point line.
Channing Frye, who was recently acquired in a trade from Orlando, looks to play a pivotal part in the Cleveland offense as well. A 6-foot-11 post who shoots 3-pointers well, Frye playing alongside Love would give James four different options to kick the ball out to when he’s driving to the rim.
Not surprisingly, a game plan to stop the Warriors first starts with containing Stephen Curry. Curry, the reigning MVP, is averaging 29.8 points per game this year and has terrorized the league from the 3-point line.
Matthew Dellavedova proved capable at times guarding Curry in last year’s Finals. The key to his performance, and something the Cavs need to emulate again, is constant pressure on Curry. Whoever guards Curry has to pick him up right as he crosses half court and not leave his side until the rebound is secured.
Additionally, if the Warriors do employ their small-ball lineup, Cleveland needs to use its size to gain an advantage on both the offensive and defensive boards.
After losing to the Warriors last year in the Finals and both games this season, including a 132-98 blowout, the Cavaliers will undoubtedly have one eye on the Finals as they finish the season and head into the postseason.
One could argue that Cleveland needs to focus on one game at a time. It’s a valid point, as the Cavs have a tendency at times this year to play down to the level of their opponents, namely a 106-97 loss to a Charlotte Hornets team playing with neither Al Jefferson nor Kemba Walker.
However, the Cavaliers have shown they can make quick work of Eastern Conference foes in the playoffs. Besides perhaps the Toronto Raptors, no team poses a real threat to Cleveland’s hopes for back-to-back Finals appearances.
Most importantly, the Cavaliers need to stay healthy. Fans and analysts alike have questioned, “What if?” in regards to Love and Irving’s absences in the Finals last year. Irving has a history of being injury-prone, so his minutes will need to be monitored as the Cavaliers advance deep into the playoffs.
Despite what many say, the “Cleveland Curse” is real. Fans of the Cavaliers, Indians and Browns have gotten their hearts broken time and time again whenever it seems a championship run is impending. However, it is very possible that this just might finally be the year that the city of Cleveland can forget years of misery and rejoice as the Cavaliers bring home a championship.