It’s a veritable heat wave. The winter husk is melting away and what lurked beneath that shell of ice was a simplified defense, leaner and more effective. The unmistakable smell of mass evaporation across miles of streets, buildings and the wide expanses of lake is a freshness and a realization that was beneath has always been there waiting to emerge.
THREE MAGIC PLAYERS WATCH TRISTAN THOMPSON DUNK, HELPLESS
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The trade deadline is over, and the deadline addition to the Cavaliers is center Spencer Hawes. Hawes adds a much needed big man to the Cavaliers, and the additions of Luol Deng and Hawes have given the Cavs something they have desperately needed over the last three seasons:
Credible veteran players, both in the ascendency of their skill, interested in winning now.
It was an overlooked element of Chris Grant's 3 year rebuild. It was well worth the investment of draft picks accumulated as assets to be used to improve the team and now, finally used. It sends a signal to the core group of drafted players that the organization will support the development of the team using those assets. Deng and Hawes are now teamed up with a true growth by the young players on the Cavs and a plan to see through whatever progress can be made through the rest of the season.
Deng’s credentials as an All Star and as a defensive leader trump his inconsistent play which has been hampered by an achilles tendon injury that predated his trade to the Cavs. When healthy, he is exactly what the team needs. He plays attentive defense, leads by example, comes from a defense-first playoff team in Chicago. Deng plays his best off the ball, attacking the basket on cuts, ideal for a team that features guards as primary playmakers. Even while recovering from injury, he remains what this young team needs as an example of professionalism and the mental state of the expectation of playing hard and playing to win every night.
Spencer Hawes started this season as the third-oldest player on the Sixers, despite being only 25 years old. At 25, he’s only a year older than Tyler Zeller, but he came into the NBA as a 19 year old as the Sacramento Kings 10th pick in the 2007 draft and, having developed a shooting stroke over these six and a half NBA seasons, he now represents a real seven foot tall inside-out veteran presence for the Cavaliers.
Hawes brings a 39.9% 3pt shooting percentage to the Cavs and the ability to open up the inside for Tristan Thompson. This is a perfect complement for Thompson, who already shouldered the Cavs inside game with 16 points and 14 rebounds against Orlando on Wednesday, and who, along with the rest of the Cavaliers team, is already enjoing the benefits of playing with a credible small forward in Deng who is an actual and serious offensive threat.
This situation is a massive opportunity for Thompson.
Thompson took a big step forward professionally last season when Varejao was injured. The Canadaian benefits from being able to play in the paint and around the rim where he can use his athleticism to snatch rebounds, collect points on putbacks, and maintain a physical presence on the court. The additons of Deng and Hawes inure much more to his benefit than to emerging rookie Anthony Bennett, who himself is more of an inside-out player.
If Thompson can grow beyond the player he became last January when a switch seemed to flip and become something more, if he has the will to overcome inconsistencies and the self-awareness to understand his limitations, what happens in the remaining 27 games of the season will be the evidence.
This, right now, as I am writing this, is the current peak of a win streak that started February 7 in Washington D.C. against the Wizards. That game was the first after former General Manager Chris Grant was fired.
The Wizards head coach Randy Wittman told his own team before that game to approach the Cavaliers like they were a desperate organization:
"We told them what that organization is going through right now. Some tough times with the firing of their GM. They're going to be desperate. It always happens no matter who it is that gets fired."
You might think it’s somewhat strange that the Cavaliers appeared to show the exact opposite of what Wittman warned his team that they would be. That is, the Cavaliers have played with purpose, but also confidence and, perhaps, a sense of peace. They held a 14 point lead in that game against the Wizards in the 4th quarter and even when it got close it seemed like a more mature and less frantic Cavalier team that was on the floor facing a 5 point lead with 3 seconds left when it was shaved to 2.
They defeated the favored Memphis Grizzlies in overtime despite Anderson Varejao taking a massive beat down in the paint from the physical play of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. When Varejao couldn’t play after that, Tristan Thompson stepped up over those next four games, averaging 17.25 points and 13 rebounds a game.
TRISTAN THOMPSON HAS FOUND HIS NEW YEAR GEAR
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This is Thompson at his best, the Thompson that ended a 10 game losing streak in a game against the Celtics last March almost single handedly. He’s been aided now in the frontcourt by Tyler Zeller, whose improve play was undoubtedly what led to his name being discussed in trade rumors leading up to Thursday’s 3PM trade deadline.
Thompson has again shown that he can be a key foundational frontcourt piece for the Cavaliers. If he can, the Cavaliers can keep winning tonight in Toronto and into March as the schedule gets more challenging.
Oh, and one more thing, it's Canada Night tonight.
"It's Canada Night tonight. Raptors vs. Cleveland Cavs. Canada Night." – Tristan Thompson