Coming off a tough loss to the Houston Rockets, the Cleveland Cavaliers begin a five game West Coast road trip that will see the Cavaliers play the Golden State Warriors, Sacramento Kings, Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers. Three of those games are against playoff teams and one - the Kings - are a lot better than most expected them to be this season. The Kings wouldn't be the Kings, though, without some chaos in the post Mike Malone world.
But the trip starts against the Warriors, who have arguably been the best team in the league so far this season and feature a front runner for MVP.
Who: Cleveland Cavaliers at Golden State Warriors
When: 10:30 p.m.
Where: Oracle Arena - Oakland, California.
Music: Chef Curry with the Pot
If I had a vote for MVP, I think I'd vote for Steph Curry. In a way, that's a crazy sentence to type. His 3-point shooting percentage is down, as is his points per game average. But when we take a deeper look into the numbers, Curry is shooting an absurd 57.6 percent on two-point field goals and he's shooting a career high 49.2 percent from the field. His improvements inside have made Curry even more difficult to guard before and he was already capable of creating a top-ten offense on his own. He's now essentially unguardable. Just take a look at what he did to Russell Westbrook earlier this week. What he does here - finishing high off the glass and doing so with an ultra quick release - is a new wrinkle for a guy that was already a juggernaut of sorts.
And he's also improved on the defensive end. His steals are up and the Warriors are much better on that end when Curry is on the floor opposed to when he's not. And with the injury issues plaguing the league's top stars - Kevin Durant, LeBron James, etc. - Curry has placed himself amongst the best of the best.
The Warriors have gotten better and that's downright scary. A year ago, under Mark Jackson, the Warriors were dark-horse contenders at best. The Dubs were excellent defensively, but were sort of simplistic offensively. The Dubs were relatively easy to defend and young role players Klay Thompson and Draymond Green were clearly skilled, but perhaps limited. There's a reason there was so much backlash when the Warrios reportedly declined to not deal Thompson as a centerpiece in a deal that would have netted them Kevin Love.
Now, with both Thompson and Green playing the best ball of their careers, the Warriors are top-five in both offensive rating and defensive rating. There isn't another team in the league that has been that good on both sides of the ball for the entire season and the Warriors have done that while missing anchor Andrew Bogut for stretches.
There is reason the Dubs are two full games up on the rest of the loaded Western Conference. This team is really, really good and, if the Cavs were at full strength, a really good gauge as to where the Cavs were.
Mozgov makes his debut. Timofey Mozgov will make his Cavaliers debut against the Warriors and will start at center, supplanting Tristan Thompson. That's probably the right move, as Mozgov is stylistically a nice fit next to Kevin Love. The one aspect of that pairing that figures to be interesting is how the Cavaliers defending pick and rolls with that duo on the floor.
Mozgov's arrival also marks a likely end to the Cavaliers major moves this season. It would make sense for GM David Griffin to add another big on the end of the bench, but once LeBron returns, this will be the Cavaliers. Moving forward, that likely means this:
PG - Kyrie Irving
SG - Iman Shumpert, once he returns from injury
SF - LeBron James
PF - Kevin Love
C - Timofey Mozgov
Key Reserves: Guards J.R. Smith, Mike Miller and Matthew Dellavedova; forwards Shawn Marion and Tristan Thompson.
That's 10 bodies to play and that group also doesn't mention rookie Joe Harris. How David Blatt manages this roster (which currently only has two players from a year ago actually playing) is going to be fascinating and could change on a night to night basis.
Fear The Sword's Prediction
The Dubs should win this game. Golden State is the best of the best right now and without James, the Cavs are going to be a little bit outgunned. For fun's sake, I'll say Irving and Love both go off, Mozgov blocks Curry once, but the Cavs lose 105-95.