The Cleveland Cavaliers are the hottest team in the Eastern Conference right now. In the NBA overall, only the Houston Rockets have won more than the six-straight games Cleveland has through Thursday morning. Last night’s 101-93 victory over the Orlando Magic, without the services of Anderson Varejao and Dion Waiters, also marked the first time the Cavaliers have won six-straight games since March 19, 2010.
6 IN A ROW FOR THE CAVS. LAST TIME THEY DID THAT WAS MARCH 19, 2010
— WayneEmbrysKids (@WayneEmbrysKids) February 20, 2014
Kyrie Irving, the NBA’s All-Star Game MVP, has played like the guy the league celebrated in New Orleans over the last six games. He's helped his teammates step up alongside him while averaging 20.5 points, 6.3 assists and 3.8 rebounds on 47.4 percent shooting from the field. During the month of February, for comparison, Irving shot 42.4 percent.
Heading into a road date with the Toronto Raptors on Friday, Irving's helped spark an avalanche of winning that appears to have consumed the Cavaliers locker room.
What’s changed for the Cavs during the streak?
From an X’s and O’s standpoint, the Cavaliers appear to be dropping their bigs defensively in pick-and-roll situations far more often than they did early on in the season. This has helped improve rim defense overall and put the Cavs frontline in better position to win the rebounding battle on a nightly basis. During this six-game winning streak, they've out-rebounded their opponent in five of six games by a total advantage of 295-258 as a result.
The Washington Wizards are a playoff team in the Eastern Conference. The Memphis Grizzlies are 30-23 and currently one game out of the No. 8 seed in the West. Other than that, the Cavaliers have played four teams who–like themselves–are currently outside of the playoff picture. So I do realize this streak has not been built on the conquered souls of the Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers and Oklahoma City Thunder.
But the Cavs have also come out with decidedly more energy, intensity and focus at the start of each of these six games and done what's required to win in the NBA. After starting games extremely slow for much of the year, and digging huge holes for themselves as a result, Cleveland has won the first quarter by a combined score of 163-143 during the streak.
Tristan Double-Double Thompson
In the shadow of All-Star weekend, Tristan Thompson has quietly strung together four straight double-doubles while averaging 17.3 points and 13 rebounds along the way. "Tristan's been huge for us," Mike Brown said last night. "I'm not exactly sure how many double-doubles that is for him in a row, but it sure feels like a lot."
Thompson has now posted 26 double-doubles in total this season. During the 82 games he appeared in last season, Thompson posted 31 for the year. The 26 double-doubles heading into Friday currently ranks the Cavs big man 11th in the League overall, one behind DeAndre Jordan and Chris Paul who are tied for ninth.
Mike Brown on Tyler Zeller: "He's becoming a physical presence for us”
While totaling 34 points and 21 rebounds over the last two games, Tyler Zeller has also turned in the best basketball of his NBA career during the streak. Mike Brown praised Zeller's effort by saying that he's "really becoming a physical presence for us on the inside," and that's certainly been the case of late.
Afterwards, I caught up with Zeller and asked him if things feels different for him in the locker room right now as compared to much of what he's experienced over the last two seasons.
"I’ve been a winner all my life,” he told me. “So winning like we have recently feels normal."
Hopefully these guys can keep things as normal as possible against Drake, T-Ross and the Raptors on Friday.
If anything happens with the trade deadline in the meantime we'll be back to talk about it.