The NBA: Can the CAVALIERS Make the Playoffs?

IF Kyrie Irving stays healthy, the Cavs will make the playoffs
(Photo from: USA Today)

It has been 3 years since LeBron James left Cleveland to join Miami. In his time in South Florida, LBJ has two MVPs and two rings while the Cavaliers have missed the playoffs 3 straight years and amassed a record of 64 wins to 166 losses. In the seven years that James played  for the Cavs, they only had 188 losses and made the playoffs 5 straight years. Will 2013-14 be the year that the Cavs make it back to the postseason? I believe YES.

Reaching the playoffs this coming season is a very viable goal for Cleveland. They have upgraded their roster by drafting Anthony Bennett and signing free agents like Jarrett Jack, Earl Clark and Andrew Bynum. Their best player, Kyrie Irving is expected to be fully healthy while Dion Waiters and Anderson Varejao are also back from the injured list. Let's be clear. The Cavs will make the playoffs IF and only IF Kyrie Irving stays healthy and plays most of their games (95% or more).

When healthy, the 2011 Rookie of the Year is arguably among the top 15 players in the NBA. Kyrie Irving has three-point shooting range (39.4% from deep), he can attack the paint (made 144 of 251 shots near the rim), create opportunities for teammates (6 assists per game) and be a terror in the passing lanes (1.5 steals). His biggest weakness has been his durability. Irving has not had a major injury in the NBA but his college career at Duke only lasted 11 games due to a foot injury.

Kyrie's two years in the NBA is littered with missed games. Irving has only appeared in 110 out of 148 (74%) regular season games. The Cavs cannot survive when Irving plays only 3 out of every 4 games. He provides so many things on offense especially on the perimeter which should open up the paint/post for Bynum (if he plays) and the rest of their frontline.

Now, if Irving still cannot remain healthy, the Cavs brought in Jarrett Jack as an insurance policy. Jack can provide veteran leadership and he can still play. Jack was a big contributor to the Golden State Warriors' playoff run last season but he plays best when coming off the bench and not as an everyday starter. Cleveland also needs sophomore Dion Waiters to come back as an improved shooter. Waiters provided solid scoring (14.7) but his shooting splits were horrible (41% overall, 31% from deep). He will play the bulk of his minutes with Irving which should result in more open shots for him. Waiters must also improve his movements off the ball to get more backdoor cuts and free lanes to the paint when defenders are focused on Irving.

The Cavaliers frontline is studded with young talent coming from three lottery picks in the past two drafts. The Canadian duo of Bennett and Thompson are expected to start and play together while Tyler Zeller, Andy Varejao and perhaps Andrew Bynum will come off the bench. The best course of action is to trade the oft-injured Varejao for a perimeter threat who can play SF and/or SG. Maybe someone like Vince Carter, OJ Mayo or Nicolas Batum. Most of the frontline minutes are expected to be given to the young ones so Andy seems the odd-man out especially if Bynum plays.

The return of Mike Brown as head coach should ideally help their team defense. The Cavs ranked 25th in points allowed and 22nd in rebounding last season. Those numbers should improve under Brown's defensive schemes. There's no way a team with young, big and athletic big men cannot improve their rebounding.

Additionally, the Cavs received help from other playoff teams from last season like the Celtics, Hawks and Bucks who are not considerably better than last year. The Celtics are definitely not making the playoffs which gives the East at least one spot up for grabs. Just imagine a first round match-up between the Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers next April. That one will be amazing!

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