Many NBA observers will tell you that the season's unofficial start is Christmas day. Many cities see their NFL teams fall out of the playoff race, and people across the country watch NBA games out of the corner of their eye while sipping egg nog and trying to avoid family interrogatories at all costs.
And they aren't wrong, really. As much as any team in the league, the Cleveland Cavaliers have been feeling their way through the first 45 some days of the season, working in new faces with old faces that aren't old at all. We've been slowly learning about what the Cavs are, what they might be. But individual games, particularly since the home opener, have been more about learning, less about winning. The team will worry about playoff seeding, home court advantage and all that comes with it, probably too soon. But each game has been measuring the Cavs against themselves.
What will the Cavaliers defensive efficiency rating be? Will Dion Waiters get his true shooting percentage up? How comfortable is Kevin Love?
Wednesday's game provides the Cavaliers with a chance to measure themselves against the league. The Atlanta Hawks are hot. They've won 10 of their last 11 games. They are 17-7 and currently sit third in the East. The Cavs have won nine of 11 themselves. They are at home. They had a practice on Tuesday, but should otherwise be well rested. Both teams are reasonably healthy. The Cavs are far from a finished product, but this matchup with the Hawks will help test what kind of progress needs to be made.
Unless it goes badly. Because then it's just a December game, and the season starts on Christmas anyway. Ask anyone.
Who: Atlanta Hawks at Cleveland Cavaliers
When: 7:00 ET
Where: Quicken Loans Arena -- Cleveland, OH
Where on my eyeballs: Fox Sports Ohio, League Pass
Enemy blog: Peachtree Hoops
The Atlanta Hawks are a team that has been a bit unlucky of late, but they just keep rolling on anyway. An injury to Al Horford derailed their season last spring, and turmoil has thrown ownership and the front office into chaos. Luckily for the Hawks, they have some good players. Jeff Teague is shooting 47/37/88 which makes me feel a little better about him shredding the Cavs over the last couple years. He's distributing at a high level, though his turnover rate is a bit high. At 26 years of age, this is his prime, and it's not a bad prime at all.
He is helped by Kyle Korver, who is merely shooting 52/55/96. I didn't mistype that. No seriously, go to basketball-reference.com, that's what he's shooting. His usage rate is miniscule, but defenses must key on him all the same. When you should 55% from three point range and provide reliable perimeter defending, you are a valuable player in the NBA. Last summer I wanted Kyle Korver, and the Cavs ended up with Jarrett Jack instead (I also wanted to sign players who ended up not so good but confirmation bias is real and hey leave me alone).
And Al Horford is starting to get his sea legs back. Hey remember when I wrote this? Pure gold.
The Cavaliers should be willing to give up a lot. I would not want the Cavaliers to start negotiations at this point, but I am ultimately willing to give up:
The Cavaliers 2013 first round pick, unprotected.
Either Al Horford or Marc Gasol.
This is a lot to give up. But it does not deplete the Cavaliers roster any more than it is today. Take the Horford trade. The Cavaliers can move forward with a core of Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, and Al Horford.
That was 18 months ago, and it's crazy how much has happened since then. Things have worked out for the Cavaliers with Kevin Love, though it's fair to wonder if Al Horford might be a better fit with Tristan Thompson, if you think Thompson is worth trying to complement (and I'll take no position there). Either way, Horford and his frontcourt partner Paul Millsap are good and fun and can shoot and will probably give the Cavaliers some trouble.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have some nice things going on. Speaking of Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love's fit together, the early signs are overwhelmingly positive. In 363 minutes, the Cavaliers are outscoring opponents by 12.5 points per 100 possessions when the two share the court per nba.com/stats.
With Kevin Love's passing and shooting and all-around skill, Thompson's low usage and offensive rebounding makes them a great pair when the Cavs have the ball. Defensively, well, we will see. Love and Thompson are 26 and 23 years old, respectively. They have time to grow. I have no clue how good they can be together on that end, but there's a pretty good chance the both of them are around for awhile to try and figure things out.
As always, the Cavaliers are much more likely to win when they trust each other defensively and get solid performances from Kyrie Irving, James, and Love.
Fear the Sword's Fearless prediction: A big game from Kyrie Irving, Cavs win 108-104.