The Cleveland Cavaliers were being mocked, they were losing games and many were writing them off as the biggest bust in the NBA in years. Then, LeBron James sat out eight games to rest his battered body. When he returned, everything changed. Cleveland has won 19 of 23 games since and LeBron has regained his MVP form, re-emerging as the NBA’s best player (with apologies to Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Kevin Durant), averaging 27.7 points, 6.9 assists, 6.3 rebounds and 50% shooting since his return. Amazingly James has been far from perfect (4.7 turnovers per game in that stretch, 68% shooting from the free throw line) but is has barely mattered.
- The Raptors got an up close look on Wednesday night at the James that has been terrorizing the league since mid-January. He was the difference. When the Raptors had seized momentum and control, fighting all the way back to take a lead, James decided he had had enough. He set up J.R. Smith for a three to regain the lead, missed a dunk, but quickly threw down another, then set up James Jones for a three. He also hit a pair of free throws then finished the Raptors off with consecutive three-pointers. In all, James scored 15 points in the fourth quarter, missing only one shot. He also added three assists and did not commit a turnover. Kyrie Irving was deadly too, but James did in the Raptors.
- The Raptors played good defence for half of the game – the first and third quarters – but got absolutely destroyed in the second and fourth frames (Cleveland shot a combined 59% with just three turnovers, none in the fourth). The issues were widespread. Greivis Vasquez can’t stay in front of Iriving (not that many can), and Cleveland effortlessly broke down the initial defender all night, which allowed the Cavaliers to set up scores of open shots, a great many of them coming from outside (The Raptors allowed a season-worst 15 threes). Part of that is LeBron and Irving do that to everyone – it is what makes Cleveland so dangerous – but part of it was Toronto just wasn’t rotating quickly enough and wasn’t doing a good enough job of putting pressure on whoever had the ball. One exception – DeMar DeRozan did a nice job on LeBron. That’s the second time this season he has done that.
- DeRozan had a second straight strong offensive game, an encouraging sign for the Raptors considering his well-documented recent struggles. The offence looked great, even though Kyle Lowry again wasn’t playing. Part of that was Lou Williams absolutely went off – a franchise-record 21 points in the fourth quarter, the second time this season he has obliterated the Cavaliers – the Raptors drew tons of fouls and were on fire from three after a slow start and also hit all but one free throw. The team only committed nine turnovers, Greivis Vasquez had 13 assists and only one turnover and Williams again looked great as a backup point guard, picking up six more assists.
- I think the Jonas Valanciunas foul on James is much ado about nothing. It was barely a flagrant and wouldn’t have been a flagrant back in the day. As Valanciunas said, with James being so big and so strong, you have to put some effort into fouling him, or else you will just bounce off of him. It wasn’t a big deal at all.
- Looks like JaVale McGee is signing with the Celtics. Told by someone who would know that if the Raptors wanted to do something they would have at the deadline with one or two of their expiring contracts. They chose not to. They weren’t going to get into a bidding war with McGee and can’t offer starting minutes like Boston can. EDIT: After publication, the McGee-Boston deal fell through and he remains on the market.