Beard: Korver trade turns Cavs into a bigger headache
Portland, Ore. — There’s not much that the Cleveland Cavaliers can do in early January that’s going to draw as much as what they did last week.
Their trade for Kyle Korver last week was a shot across the bow to the Golden State Warriors, who retooled in the offseason by adding Kevin Durant and fine-tuned their reserves.
For many, that continues to fuel the notion that fans will be in store for a third straight meeting — maybe even better than last year’s “The Empire Strikes Back” sequel — between the Warriors and Cavs in the NBA Finals.
It wasn’t too long ago that the Atlanta Hawks were considered a contender in the East, but with this year in limbo, they shuttled the sharpshooter Korver, 35, and helped strengthen the Cavs for a repeat run at the title.
It might be good for a potential Finals rematch, but it’s not so good for the rest of the NBA, who already had their hands full with the Cavs’ Big Three of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. Now, they’ll have another 3-point threat on the perimeter, while J.R. Smith recovers from a thumb injury.
Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said it just makes defending the Cavs a bigger headache.
“It just gives Cleveland another weapon. When you’re playing with a guy like LeBron — who’s probably the best passer in the league — and Kyrie Irving, who draws a lot of attention, they want to put as much shooting out there as they can,” Van Gundy said Saturday. “They’ve got J.R. Smith out and now Korver can take his spot. When he comes back, it gives them another guy on the bench.”
With Love as their center, the Cavs can have five players on the court who are dangerous 3-point shooters, and they could be a nightmare on switches. It’s similar to what the Warriors can do with their small “Death” lineup, with Draymond Green (Michigan State) as the center.
“They’re going to spend a lot of time out there with them having Kyrie and LeBron penetrating and Kevin Love, Channing Frye and either Korver or J.R. on the perimeter,” Van Gundy said. “It’s not easy to guard.”
On the other side, it’s part of a surprising transformation for the Hawks, who lost Al Horford, Jeff Teague and Korver — and now are rumored to be interested in trading Paul Millsap before he becomes an unrestricted free agent after the season. The Hawks have gone from a 60-win team to a rebuilding one in a short time, and Dwight Howard isn’t exactly a foundational piece to build around.
If the Hawks continue to retool, it could help the Pistons, who were 3.5 games behind in the standings entering Sunday’s matchup against the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Monday Drive takes the trip out West — and unexpectedly needed snow tires for the time in Portland, as the ice storm caused Saturday’s game to be postponed and wiped out a day off on Sunday.
Here are some thoughts and observations for this week:
Break up Boban: The Pistons got a revelation in Boban Marjanovic’s performance off the bench the past two games, but it shouldn’t be much of a quandary for Van Gundy. He should ride Marjanovic as long as he can because of the energy and production he’s bringing to the lineup. It’s no slight to Aron Baynes — who’s all for doing whatever it takes to help the team win. Of course, Marjanovic can’t play against the smaller, more mobile centers, but if the matchups dictate that he can handle a few minutes, it helps both the Pistons’ long-term outlook and their short-term success.
Way out west: Van Gundy would never say that one set of games is more important than another, but on the five-game, nine-day trip, they can’t afford to fall much further below .500. The victory at home over the Charlotte Hornets provided a small boost — despite having to hang on in the final minute — but a couple of wins could catapult them back into contention in the East.
Reggie’s back: The Pistons have the old Reggie Jackson back now. He’s shown in the last couple games that he has his offensive burst back, plus the aggressive drives to the basket that defined the Pistons for many parts of last season. They made it in the first part of the season while he recovered from knee tendinitis, but have had to adjust to having him back — and it’s taken a bit longer than most of them thought.
The other Reggie: Reggie Bullock is close to returning to the lineup as well, after a torn meniscus kept him out for more than a month. He’s been practicing with the team the last few days and Van Gundy said he’s comfortable with putting him in a game now. With the offensive struggles that Stanley Johnson and Darrun Hilliard have gone through, Bullock could provide a lift if he brings his consistent outside scoring.
Award watch: The league MVP race is as compelling as ever, with the Rockets’ James Harden and the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook tallying triple-double numbers nightly. Each fan has his or her own favorite but with the Rockets hovering around 20 games over .500 with their roster, he gets the early edge over Westbrook. We’re not halfway through the season yet, so things can change — almost nightly.