The Cleveland Cavaliers made the playoff their firm goal, started poorly, traded for Luol Deng, fired their general manager, re-affirmed their playoff priority and backed it up by trading for Spencer Hawes.
By winning the first two games of their current road trip – at Phoenix, at Golden State – the Cavaliers finally looked like they could make the playoff race interesting (aided heavily by the Atlanta Hawks’ free fall).
But Cleveland’s loss Sunday probably ends that postseason hope, and I don’t mean the loss to the Clippers, though that setback dropped the Cavaliers to 4.5 games behind Atlanta.
Kyrie Irving left the game after just 10 minutes due to injury.
Irving is Cleveland’s top player, averaging 21.5 points and 6.3 assists per game this season. That alone is a large loss to overcome.
But he’s also the Cavaliers’ rock. He’s in each of their dozen most-used lineups, and the 13th-most used lineup hasn’t played since November. The next four most-used also feature Irving. They’re just not used to doing anything without him.
With games against the Heat, Thunder and Rockets up next – and chances to gain ground in the playoff race disappearing – it’s not a great time to adjust on the fly.
Unless the Cavaliers are adjusting to a tanking strategy. Then, they’re sitting pretty.
Any controversy over C.J. McCollum‘s suspension for the season-opener should be put to rest. The Trail Blazers fared fine without him.
More than fine.
Portland beat the Suns, 124-76, Wednesday. The 48-point margin is the largest ever in a season opener, even as the Trail Blazers let a 58-point fourth-quarter lead dwindle.
Here are the most lopsided season-openers in NBA history (openers for both teams appearing twice):
The 48-point defeat is also the Suns’ worst lost in franchise history, topping a 44-point loss to the Seattle SuperSonics in 1988. It could be a long year in Phoenix.
Marcus Smart and Matthew Dellavedova thrive on aggravating opponents, so when matched up, of course they aggravated each other.
Deduct points from Smart for pulling the hold-me-back charade behind a referee. Plus, Dellavedova’s Bucks beat Smart’s Celtics, 108-100.
The Nets’ projected record this season came under greater scrutiny when the Celtics traded Brooklyn’s unprotected first-round pick to the Cavaliers in the Kyrie Irving trade. After finishing third-to-last and last the previous two years, were the Nets poised to take a step forward, or would they convey a very high pick to the Cavs?
Jeremy Lin, who missed 46 games last season, getting healthy was a reason for optimism in Brooklyn and pessimism in Cleveland. But it appears the veteran guard could be out a while.
Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:
Billy Reinhardt of Nets Daily:
If the injury is as bad as feared, what a bummer for Lin. He came to Brooklyn expecting to play a leading role on a developing team, and he just can’t stay healthy.
The Nets were probably more focused on developing their younger players, but – especially without their own draft picks – there was no harm in shooting for the playoffs. This appears to a blow to that (already unlikely) dream.
It’s a boon to the Cavaliers, though. And whenever something significantly affects LeBron James‘ team, it has ramifications into the entire power dynamic of the Eastern Conference. For an injury to a player on a team most expect to be bad, the medical developments here will be tracked closely around the league.
Remember when Aaron Gordon was a promising fun player?
The Magic sidetracked him by playing him at small forward most of last season. But back at power forward, Gordon showed how he could push the pace as a four in Orlando’s season-opening win over the Heat.
There’s obviously flair in passing to yourself off the backboard, but it’s a sound way to improve position. Gordon did that to fantastic effect.