Clippers will play a Cavaliers team that has found its stride
Winning it all with a newly formed star trio isn’t always as easy as 1-2-Big Three.
The Miami Heat reached the NBA Finals in its first season after LeBron James and Chris Bosh walked through an introductory smoke show alongside Dwyane Wade before disappearing into thin air against the Dallas Mavericks.
The Lakers of Kobe Bryant-Dwight Howard-Steve Nash sounded good in theory until the reality of Nash’s frail body and Bryant’s torn Achilles’ tendon set in.
The Cleveland Cavaliers seemed like a lock for at least the Eastern Conference finals this season after James and Kevin Love joined forces with Kyrie Irving before they opened themselves to nearly universal criticism.
The Cavaliers were 19-20 on Jan. 13 after a loss to Phoenix that marked their eighth defeat in nine games. James had returned to face the Suns after a two-week injury absence but only strengthened the what’s-wrong-with-the-Cavaliers discourse after shoving Coach David Blatt aside during an argument with officials.
Then a funny thing happened on the way to Cleveland’s presumed demise: It didn’t happen.
The Cavaliers (30-20) have won 11 consecutive games starting with back-to-back victories over the Lakers and Clippers at Staples Center, putting them back among the playoff favorites in the East. They will try to extend their streak Thursday against the Clippers at Quicken Loans Arena.
“Right now they’re playing unbelievable,” said Clippers Coach Doc Rivers, who knows what it takes to guide a star threesome to an NBA championship.
Rivers’ Boston Celtics won 29 of their first 32 games on the way to the 2008 title after Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen arrived to complement Paul Pierce.
“They were at the right point of their lives,” Rivers said of his former stars. “They were all veterans and they were on the second half of their career and they wanted to win now. Kevin had been an MVP and Ray was MVP of an All-Star game, Paul had been an All-Star starter. They didn’t need any of that. So it was all about winning.”
Love has endured the hardest transition among the Cavaliers, his production dipping and his coach openly questioning whether he was worthy of a maximum contract. It also didn’t help that Blatt benched Love late in some games.
“That’s tough, going from a situation where you’re the guy and you’re the No. 1 option coming in and when you go down that list, it can be a hard transition when you’re used to getting plays, shots like he has,” Clippers forward-center Spencer Hawes said of Love, who was a franchise player for the last four of his six seasons in Minnesota.
“Obviously, just because he’s not been putting up the numbers he has in the past doesn’t mean that you take him any less lightly.”
The Cavaliers recently fortified themselves with the additions of J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Timofey Mozgov via trades, adding depth to a team that was already one of the most feared in the league.
“They just had to find what works for them,” Clippers point guard Chris Paul said. “They were trying to find that trust. Everybody was having to buy in, the same thing every team has to go through.”
Rivers said J.J. Redick appeared to be feeling better after being sidelined for the final 44 minutes against Brooklyn on Monday by a recurrence of back spasms but cautioned the shooting guard was “probably out” for the game against the Cavaliers.
“There’s a chance” he could play, Rivers said, “but we’re going to be very cautious.”
CLIPPERS AT CLEVELAND
When: 5 p.m. PST.
Where: Quicken Loans Arena.
On the air: TV: TNT; Radio: 980, 1330.
Records: Clippers 33-16; Cavaliers 30-20.
Record vs. Cavaliers: 0-1.
Update: Clippers center DeAndre Jordan is coming off a 22-point, 20-rebound performance against Brooklyn — the first 20-20 game of his career — but couldn’t enjoy it because his team lost to the Nets, 102-100. “Honestly, I was getting easy buckets because of penetration and Chris [Paul] and Blake [Griffin] drawing double-teams,” Jordan said. “A lot of the buckets came easy. It’s cool and all, but we lost, so it really doesn’t mean too much.”
Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch
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