Cavs set for strong stretch

That headline has to be the most obvious statement made this year. Along with, “I’m ready for spring” and, “There’s potholes everywhere.”

The Cavaliers were the hottest topic in the NBA even before the season started when LeBron James announced he was coming back to join his former team. Now as the season heads to its stretch run, Cleveland continues to burn with attention as winners of 19 of the last 23 games.

James has been at the heart of the team’s turnaround. The Cavaliers have missed the playoffs the past four seasons, as James was a member of the Miami Heat. It’s not a coincidence that with James leading the Cavs that they are back atop the Eastern Conference standings.

Actually, Cleveland is in second place in the East, behind the Atlanta Hawks. The two teams face off tonight in Atlanta which will be one of the most anticipated contests of the year.

As the Cavaliers are playing their best basketball of the season, so is James. Earlier this week, he scored 27 points against the Boston Celtics which resulted in a 110-79 victory to snap a two-game losing streak. In the process, James recorded his 24,508th career point (he now has 24,537 after dropping 29 against the Raptors on Wednesday) to move ahead of Ray Allen for 21st on the NBA all-time scoring list. James is still only 30 years old and has the potential to play for another decade. Patrick Ewing is next on the scoring list and there’s still nearly 15,000 points to go to catch Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the top scorer of all-time.

That won’t be a cake walk and neither is this season for Cleveland – though it was expected to be. There was a four-game losing streak in November and a five-game losing streak in January. Then, starting center Anderson Varajao went down with a season-ending injury. But the Cavs have recovered and things are starting to come together well now.

With Kyrie Irving back from an injury, Cleveland has perhaps the most talented starting five in the game. By trading for Kevin Love in the offseason, it was expected that this version of the Big 3 would exceed what James had in Miami with Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade. Love and Irving are excellent complements to James. All three are in the top 30 in league scoring, with Irving and James in the top 10 with 21.7 and 26.3 points per game, respectively. Love is in the top 10 in rebounds with 10 per game and James averages 7.3 assists per game, which is seventh in the NBA.

The starting lineup also includes J.R. Smith, a consistent double figures scorer who recently came over via trade from the Knicks, and another trade deal in Timofey Mozgov, who is a center reminiscent of Cleveland legend Zydrunas Ilgauskas.

It was with Ilgauskas that the Cavaliers last made a run at the title. Of course, James was there too, but this year’s team is more complete.

In 2007, when I was a high school senior, watching Cavs games was the most important activity of that summer before I headed off to college. After I walked across the stage at graduation on a Saturday in June, I rushed to see the Cavaliers in the Finals against the San Antonio Spurs. Though Cleveland was swept in that championship series, I still fondly remember being glued to the television intently along with the rest of Eastern Ohio.

Those memories will be made again this season.

Unfortunately, so will the agony of these winter months.

(Peaslee, a Weirton resident, is a sports writer for the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times. He can be contacted at mpeaslee@heraldstaronline.com and followed on Twitter at @thempeas)