By: Jonathan Kostoff – Sports Writer
Yes, it has been 50 years since there was a major sports title in Cleveland.
The Browns blanked the Baltimore Colts 27-0 in the NFL championship game December 27, 1964.
Since then, the city has been haunted by nightmare-like sports memories. The Drive, The Fumble, The Shot, The Curse of Rocky Calavito, Jose Mesa’s blown save and The Decision are just a few moments forever ingrained in any Cleveland sports fan’s mind.
Did that all change when LeBron James announced July 11 that he was coming home?
Yes, it sure did.
“In northeast Ohio, nothing is given,” James said in a piece co-written with Sports Illustrated columnist Lee Jenkins. “Everything is earned. You work for what you have. I’m ready to accept the challenge. I’m coming home.” James has been on a revived mission this time to bring his experiences in Miami to Cleveland and cement his legacy as Cleveland’s savior.
He returns to northeast Ohio, the city of Cleveland and his hometown of Akron with an unfulfilled promise of an NBA title for this area, his home.
Have the Cavaliers had their fair share of struggles this season? You bet. Losing to the poor Philadelphia 76ers and New York Knicks was low. Dropping below .500 39 games into the season was so far-fetched that Las Vegas did not even have odds on it.
However, recent trades to acquire streaky shooter J.R. Smith and wing-defender Iman Shumpert from the Knicks, as well as Denver’s raw mammoth in the paint, Timofey Mozgov, has given the Cavaliers the key secondary pieces to win the title.
Yes, that’s right.
I said the Cavaliers have the pieces and parts to win and win now.
Since Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the Cavaliers have gone 12-2, which is the best record in the NBA during that stretch. The numbers have been through the roof on both ends of the floor.
Cleveland has limited opponents to just 94 points per game. Prior to the pair of trades, teams averaged 99.8 points per game. On the offensive end, the Cavaliers are averaging 106.6 points per game in that stretch.
The 12-2 record is the beginning for a team who had this makeover roster for 19 games together. After the NBA’s All-Star weekend break, the team’s chemistry can only grow.
Role players have stepped up for the Cavaliers like Tristan Thompson, who is fifth in offensive rebounds per game in the NBA. J.R. Smith has averaged 12.7 points per game since arriving to Cleveland. Timofey Mozgov is averaging 10.7 points per game and 8.6 rebounds per game in 19 games. Iman Shumpert is averaging 7.2 points per game, 44 percent from 3-point range, and has provided the wing defense the team so desperately coveted.
At the end of the day, it will come down to the play of the “Big Three.” James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love have to be able to coexist with each other and continue to spread the ball.
In games with the Big Three in the lineup, the Cavaliers are an astounding 29-12. When all three are on the court, the Cavaliers are outscoring opponents by a combined 284 points. When any of the three are on the bench, the team has been outscored by a combined 127. Without at least one of them playing in a game, the team is 4-10.
James most certainly has the toughest task of all. He leads a team with key guys like Love, Irving and Thompson, who have yet to sniff playoff basketball.
Currently, the Cavaliers sit in fifth place in the Eastern Conference heading into the All-Star break, but only trail the second place Chicago Bulls by 1½ games. Cleveland is 6-5 against the teams that sit above them in the standings and have beaten them all at least once.
Once the break is over, there is no doubt the team will taste the NBA Finals and bring home a title.
Fifty years of torture for Cleveland sports fans is over this June.
No ring will be sweeter than this for LeBron James and his hometown.