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3 Reasons the Cavs Are Playing Their Best Basketball of the Season as Playoffs Approach

Rodney Hood, Larry Nance Jr., LeBron James, and George Hill

On Tuesday night, the Cleveland Cavaliers continued their recent success when they defeated the Eastern Conference-leading Toronto Raptors, 112-106. The victory marked the Cavs’ ninth win in the last 10 games. It also reaffirmed something that should strike fear into the rest of the NBA: After struggling for much of the season, the Cavs are finally back on track.

Perhaps the greatest reason behind the Cavs’ recent success is health. Cleveland has been bitten by the injury bug during several different points in the 2017-18 campaign. However, with just four games left on the regular season schedule, its roster is healthier than it has been in months.

In the win over the Raptors, the only member of the Cavs’ regular rotation that was out with injury was point guard George Hill. Compare that to last month, when Larry Nance Jr., Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, and Rodney Hood all missed multiple games due to injury, and it becomes quite clear why the Cavs are putting together a better effort recently.

George Hill, Jose Calderon, Kevin Love, and Larry Nance Jr.

Players like Hood, Hill, and Nance are still in just their third month with the Cavs. Their absences were more impactful because it meant they had even less time to build chemistry with their teammates. According to Cavs interim head coach Larry Drew, that chemistry is still being built amidst their late-season winning streak.

“I still say we’re only scratching the surface, I really do,” Drew said after the win over the Toronto. “I still think we can get our young guys, our new guys, they’re still kind of feeling their way through this. I can look at their face and tell that they’re just thinking, they’re just trying to think of what to do. They’re not letting their natural basketball instincts take over. And when they get passed that point, I think it takes us to another level.”

Despite Drew’s assertion that the Cavs still have room to grow, Hood has been adamant about his sense of comfort with the Cavs’ playbook compared to when he first arrived.

“I’m 100 times more settled than I was when I first got here,” Hood said. “As far as just knowing the playbook, knowing where I’m going to be, knowing spots. Now it’s about just putting it together and I think that’s like the last piece. We’re all doing that. I think we’re jelling at the right time, especially when we get George back from injury.”

The potential for another level of success is exactly what all Cavs fans want to hear as the regular season winds down. Even if they haven’t reached their full potential, it is clear that the Cavs are far outperforming themselves from earlier in the season.

One reason for that fact is an improvement on the defensive side of the ball. In the last 10 games, the Cavs have allowed an average of 104.3 points per game. While it is a small sample size, it does compare favorably to the rest of the NBA. If that average was stretched out for the entire season, the Cavs would find themselves within the top 10 of points allowed per game, just behind the Houston Rockets.

When the allowed points per game average from the previous 10 games is compared to the same statistic from the Cavs’ worst multi-game stretch this season, when they lost 10 of 13 back in January, the improvement becomes even more stark. In those 13 games, the Cavs allowed a staggering 114.6 points per game. If that number was applied to the entire season, the Cavs would boast the worst defense in the NBA in terms of points per game.

LeBron James, Isaiah Thomas, Kevin Love, J.R. Smith, and Jae Crowder

The final reason behind the Cavs’ recent success should come as no surprise to anyone who has watched a single Cavs game over much of the last 15 years. While LeBron James has played magnificently all season long, he has somehow taken it to yet another level as of late. In the last 10 games, James has averaged 30.1 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 10.0 assists per game. Even for the four-time MVP, those numbers are jaw-dropping.

James himself has recently stated that he doesn’t know what to expect out of the Cavs once the postseason begins, but he seems well aware of just how well he is playing at the moment.

“That’s to be seen,” James said of what he thinks the Cavs can accomplish. “But mentally, I’m sharp and I’m focused on what we need to do in order to close out this regular season, but more importantly with Thursday with Washington coming into our building.

“But, I’m mentally sharp and I’m fresh minded so we’ll give ourselves a good chance.”

A fully engaged James is still the most dangerous player in the NBA and with the postseason still several weeks away, it is clear that King James is already in playoff mode.

With just four games left in the regular season, the Cavs will look to continue their recent winning ways and start the playoffs off on the right foot. If they can continue their recent success into the postseason, the Cavs might get the chance to bring yet another championship to Northeast Ohio.

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