When LeBron James decided to take two weeks off in the beginning of January, things could not look any bleaker for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
In the nine games without James, the Cavs lost eight. The team appeared to be in free-fall. I, along with most fans, was deeply concerned about the competitiveness of this team.
When LeBron came back from his brief mid-season respite in the dog days of January, however, the team looked brand-new – but this had less to do with the return of The King and everything to do with some key additions.
For weeks, I have been saying the Cavaliers owe their 12-game win streak and recent success to center Timofey Mozgov, who the Cavs acquired from the Denver Nuggets on Jan. 7. It also didn’t hurt for the team to pick up Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith.
Shumpert has been a critical role player in coming off the bench, and Smith is a better fit here than with the New York Knicks – most likely because he is now on a playoff contender and, playing with more effort.
But Mozgov has been the real, understated star of the show.
In the last 10 games, the 7-foot center is averaging 11.5 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. These numbers are not team-leading, and that isn’t really surprising considering Mozgov plays with three full-blown superstars.
His presence, however, is what truly makes a world of difference. When Anderson Varejao tore his Achilles tendon, the Cavs were in major need of a true center.
They got a deal with Mozgov, who can defend in the paint and alter shots. In the locker room, James has acknowledged the key role that Mozgov continues to play in the Cavs’ successes.
“We needed [Mozgov] and you know when we made the trade, and everything he brings us is what we need and want,” James said. “He’s going to be huge for our team. He’s very, very skilled offensively, understands defensively, and is just a really smart basketball player.”
The Cavs finally have all of the pieces in place. A healthy James, combined with two other superstars in Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, and great new role players who were added mid-season.
In retrospect, it seems ludicrous to me that I thought the 2009-2010 Cavs had a shot at winning the title (the second leading scorer was Mo Williams).
Now, we do live in Cleveland, so I am not going to get my hopes up – but for the first time in a long time, I’m looking forward to basketball in May… maybe even June.