Can the new-look Cavs test the Spurs?

By Benjamin Bornstein, Project

With the news of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Minnesota Timberwolves making up and making out pretty well with the re-ordered Kevin Love trade, I decided it was time to sit down and reconsider my life. Did the Cleveland Cavs just create the ultimate team? I don’t know, but we all thought the same thing when the Heat did something similar in 2010. I’ll tell you this: I strongly believe that those Heat and this Cavaliers team are almost carbon copies of each other. And that is why they could potentially knock off the Spurs should they meet each other in the playoffs.

Although these teams have LeBron James in common, they have a very different James. When he joined the Heat, “The King” couldn’t shoot, he didn’t have a post-up game, he wasn’t nearly as efficient as he is now, and he understands his game better now than he ever has in his career. He knows how to make others around him elevate their game, he can adjust his game to better suit his team, and he does just about everything on the court.

However, is that enough to put the Cavaliers over the top? Let’s take a look through their lineup and see what we find. Their point guard in Kyrie Irving can certainly match up with Tony Parker, but it’s doubtful he’ll play good enough defense to stop him. He’s never really shown a knack for wanting to play it, but maybe David Blatt could change all that (right?). Dion Waiters will have to put aside his “creative differences” with Irving in order to not only co-exist with him, but with LeBron as well. He will also have to show a better touch than 43% from the field, and HAS to improve from an abysmal 68.5% from the charity stripe. Manu Ginobili and Danny Green probably hold an advantage in this department.

With LeBron at the three, it’s an automatic upgrade over Alonzo Gee, Luol Deng, and Sergey Karasev. Kawhi Leonard has proven he can give LeBron a challenge defensively and offensively. He did kind of win the Finals MVP after exploding in that Finals series, so he and his outrageously large hands might be putting those mitts around another Bill Russell trophy in this potential matchup. However, I think this is the most even matchup of the five starting positions.

There is no denying that Kevin Love is the premier forward of our time and he’s at the ripe age of 25 (turns 26 in September). Tim Duncan is historic in terms of basketball years, but has found ways to stay in shape. Love’s game expands a little farther than Duncan’s, but Timmy probably has a few post-moves on K-Love thanks to his experience. It would be a tough guard and would certainly require a switch or two on defense, so I have to give this one to the Love Machine unfortunately.

At the center position is where it gets kind of fun because neither guy will be a key cog on their respective teams. Tiago Splitter and Anderson Varejao really have specialized roles and it will come down to who does theirs better. I think Splitter brings more to the table on the defensive end despite Varejao being a known rebounding machine. Splitter will be able to play good help defense and will anchor the paint better than the mop top from Brazil, thanks to his slight age advantage (29 vs. 31).

We all know that games and series are not won with only the starters, and this is where the Spurs have a clear-cut edge. After the starters for the Cavs, who is left? Tristan Thompson, Brendan Haywood, Matthew Dellavedova, Mike Miller, James Jones, Erik Murphy (Gators!), Dwight Powell, and John Lucas III. None of those names inspire confidence if I am a teammate. They definitely don’t instill fear if I’m facing them either. Miller will be lucky to get through a season without using some sort of sorcery or hyperbaric chamber to survive, Haywood hasn’t been effective in years, and most of the others are either misfits or young guns without enough experience. Meanwhile, the Spurs return a bench full of guys who have been with them for two years or more (with the exception of Marco Belinelli and Jeff Ayres) and who have now perfected their roles on the team. Ginobili, Boris Diaw, Patty Mills, Cory Joseph, and now Kyle Anderson (thank you draft) will all be there to back up those starters when Pop needs to manage their minutes, and he’ll surely find a way to keep them out of the tired zone as well.

Initial thoughts would lean toward the Cavaliers having a very dangerous team, which they do, but I don’t believe that they can beat the Spurs in a Finals series matchup. There’s no way to me that they take four out of seven games away from them, especially with a seriously lacking bench punch. You can have all the stars for days, but they can’t play 48 minutes every game even if it’s only for one series. That’s when the Spurs will strike and use their greatest weapon against the Cavs to win it all, and go for the repeat.