Eagles Defense Needs to Improve the Pass Rush

17 Aug

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By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

The Eagles defense needs to put more pressure on the quarterback, something they haven't done so far this preseason.  Photo by Webster Riddick.

The Eagles defense needs to put more pressure on the quarterback, something they haven’t done so far this preseason. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—With the Eagles third preseason game this Thursday against the Pittsburgh Steelers on the horizon, there are some things from last Friday’s exhibition game they need to fix coming into what will be a dress rehearsal for the regular season.

Of course, the big worry for the Eagles has to be their defense, which did not play well in the 42-35 loss to the New England Patriots in Foxboro. The Birds starters and backups collectively gave up 476 yards of offense.

The only bright spot from the defense in that game was Cary Williams 77-yard interception return for a touchdown on the Patriots first series of possession. Williams wound up pulling his hamstring on the play and did not play the rest of the game. Even with the pick-six, the Patriots had driven through 50 yards through the Eagles defense without much resistance.

“We need to generate a better pass rush,” said Eagles head coach Chip Kelly. “I think our defensive line has to do a better job in terms of what their rush contains are. We had that one play with (Ryan) Mallet where Marcus (Smith) does a nice job of making him flush up in the pocket, but we got nobody on that side containing the quarterback and we let the quarterback scramble in for a touchdown.”

The Eagles first-team defense, which ranked 32nd in pass defense in 2013, didn’t get any pressure on Tom Brady. He completed 8-of-10 passes for 81 yards with one touchdown and an interception. After Brady’s early pick-six, New England got touchdown passes on their next three possessions— one from Brady and two from backup Jimmy Garoppollo.

Backup cornerback Curtis Marsh got torched for three of the Patriots four touchdown passes. The defense got just two sacks from their backups—linebacker Brandon Graham and rookie defensive end Alejandro Villanueva.

“We use a lot of different combinations and we try to get some guys in with the ones to see them work around,” Kelly said. “We had a lot of different rotations going on just to see if we can get some guys evaluated on film. We do need to generate a pass rush, especially if you’re going to play somebody the caliber of Tom (Brady).”

For all the talk of the improvement of the Eagles defense, they took a step backwards last Friday. Granted, it’s only the second game of the preseason and defensive coordinator Bill Davis might have been trying different personnel groups.

The good news for the Birds is they will have at least the first half and a third quarter of Thursday’s game against the Steelers to fix the deficiencies on defense. They better do it quick.

On offense, Nick Foles found his rhythm and showed flashes of 2013 with his performance in the first half. He was of 8-of-10 for 81 yards with one touchdown, one fumble and no interceptions after throwing two last week against Chicago.

In fact, all three Eagles quarterbacks performed well during their stints against the Patriots. Mark Sanchez is showing that he will be a capable backup if Foles gets hurt. Against New England, Sanchez is 11-of-12 for 117 yards and two touchdowns with one interception.

Third-string quarterback Matt Barkley also played well, completing 9-of-12 passes for 132 yards and one touchdown pass and one interception.

With both Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper sitting on the sideline with injuries, the Eagles got a good look at six-foot-seven Ifeanyi Momah and rookie Jordan Matthews , who struggled last week a pair of drops.

Suffice it to say, Momah had a tough night in New England. He had two fumbles and three drops. Oddly enough, one of Momah’s drops inadvertently led to an Eagles touchdown late in the first half when the ball caromed off his hands and into the clutches of Arrelious Benn. He had three catches for 28 yards.

Meanwhile, Matthews made a strong case for him to be included with the first stringers with his performance Friday. He caught nine passes for 104 yards. After the game, the former Vanderbilt star said he still has a lot of work to get better.

“I want to always keep that mindset and just go out there and make plays,” Matthews said. “I just continue to slow the game down in my head and make it feel more like practice. I feel like I did some good things, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement.”

Howard’s Struggles Are Not From a Lack of Effort

14 Aug

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard has struggled at the plate this season.  Photo by Webster Riddick.

Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard has struggled at the plate this season.
Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—Last Sunday, Ryan Howard drove in the winning run with a walk-off single to cap a 7-6 come from behind victory over the New York Mets.

In a season where Howard has been struggling and getting booed by whoever shows up at Citizen’s Bank Park, it was refreshing to see No. 6 carry his team to victory the way he did during the Phillies remarkable five-year run of division titles that included a World Series championship.

The 2014 season has been the worst for Howard in a non-injury season. He is batting an anemic .219 with 18 home runs and 73 runs batted in (third in the National League). Even with Sunday’s game-winning hit, Howard is batting just .223 with runners in scoring position. He was benched for three games this by manager Ryne Sandberg.

On the Phillies last homestand, Howard had four game-winning hits while batting .266 with a pair of home runs.

There have been calls by fans and media folks for him to be traded. If it wasn’t for his hefty $25-million per year salary, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. might have sent him packing.

The hard part of watching Howard go through his struggles at the plate is that it’s not for a lack of effort on his part. Leg and foot injuries, especially those to the knees and Achilles, take their toll on athletes and it takes them time to be back at 100 percent.

That was something that Howard said he was going through when I spoke to him about it back in June.

“Once you suffer a big injury, it does take a little bit of time for the normal aches and pains that you used to have before your injuries to become commonplace,” said Howard, who hasn’t played beyond 80 games since 2011. “Now as my body is starting to go through all that stuff, it’s re-learning how to work its way through.”

But fans aren’t going to buy that. When they see Howard strike-out with the bases loaded, they will point to his $25 million per year salary and say that’s not what he should be doing whether he’s hurt or not. They are going to show their displeasure through booing or calling for the team to run him out of town on sports talk radio or social media.

That’s a burden Howard has carried during his time here in Philly. It’s the monster created from 2005 to 2011 when it was his home runs and runs batted in that led the Phillies to a remarkable run that included a World Series championship.

Howard doesn’t have the luxury being the gritty, blue collar player who is gamely trying to fight through his injuries after missing most of the last two years coming into this season. The fact that he leads his team in runs batted in and is third in RBIs in the National League is of no consequence to Phillies fans.

What I find fascinating is that during those periods when fan favorite Chase Utley was fighting through his injuries and not performing at his best, he didn’t get the same kind of acrimony that Howard has gotten during his struggles.

But as much I like and respect Utley, he is able to play the blue-collar superstar role because the real burden of moving and shaking the Phillies offense over the years was on Howard who was the main reason for the Phillies success when they were on top of the division standings.

Howard’s recent complaints about fans booing him were not so much about the fans themselves, but it was more about the frustration within himself of not being able to help his team the way he once did.

I think Howard has more aches and pains that are affecting his performance than he is telling anyone including his team. If he points to it, he will be seen as a $25 million a year whiner. So Howard will do what he always does—soldier through it with his best effort while hearing the boos along the way.

 

 

 

 

Can Bernard Hopkins Stop Hard-Hitting Sergey Kovalev?

7 Aug

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Bernard Hopkins will take on unbeaten Sergey Kovalev in a light heavyweight unification bout sometime in November. Photo by Chris Murray.

Bernard Hopkins will take on unbeaten Sergey Kovalev in a light heavyweight unification bout sometime in November. Photo by Chris Murray.

PHILADELPHIA—For his latest age-defying act against “Father Time” in the square circle, the 49-year-old Bernard Hopkins will take on rising unbeaten World Boxing Organization champion Sergey “The Krusher” Kovalev in a light-heavyweight unification bout.

Hopkins, who now calls himself the “Alien,” is looking to beat up on another younger, stronger,faster fighter. But this fight, which is scheduled to place in November either at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City or the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn —two months before his 50th birthday (Jan.15), might be the toughest in his continuing battle against aging in the ring.

Unbeaten WBO Light Heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev is fresh off a second round knockout of Blake Caparello on Aug. 2.

Unbeaten WBO Light Heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev is fresh off a second round knockout of Blake Caparello on Aug. 2.

Kovalev (25-0-1, 23 knockouts) is fresh off a devastating second-round knockout of previously unbeaten Australian Blake Caparello. In that fight, Kovalev bounced back from a flash knockdown by Caparello and then knocked him down three times before the referee called a halt to the bout at the 1:47 mark of the second round.

What makes Kovalev a tough matchup for Hopkins is that he might be the hardest puncher that the age-defying Hopkins has met at this stage of his career.

Kovalev is a methodical, straight forward fighter who can hurt you with either hand. The unbeaten Russian is a disciplined fighter who can break another fighter down by going to the body before going to the head. The first knockdown against Caparello was the result of a devastating right to the body that was pretty much the beginning of the end.

The 31-year-old native of Cheylabinsk, Russia, has knocked out his last nine opponents.

But Hopkins, who holds the International Boxing Federation and World Boxing Association light heavyweight titles, has been in the ring against several hard-charging, hard punching fighters like Kelly Pavlik and Antonio Tarver and has come out of those battles victorious.

Hopkins seems to relish those matches against aggressive young fighters who like to come forward so he can so he can find their weaknesses and take advantage of them. That’s why Hopkins is confident that he will get the same result against the hard-punching Kovalev and the be the oldest boxer to hold an undisputed title.

“I’ve set and broken many records, but becoming the oldest undisputed light heavyweight champion is the goal and Kovalev stands in the way of that goal,” Hopkins said. “He’s another young, hungry and just like the ones that came before him, he will leave the ring beltless.”

Over the years, I’ve learned to never to underestimate guts and guile of Hopkins. I have counted him out on numerous occasions as being too old. I have also predicted that there was going to come a point to where he was going to age in the ring.

But the crazy part about is that Hopkins has managed to prove me and several of his critics wrong more often than naught. Heck, even in his losses he hasn’t been beaten to a pulp. He has had very few cuts on his face and hasn’t been staggered or knocked down.

The big question here is whether or not Hopkins vast defensive skills and experience will be enough to withstand the vicious onslaught of Kovalev. This is a guy who has enough power in both hands to either knock another fighter into next week or have him eating soup for a few weeks with a vicious shot to the body.

“He says he is alien. He punch, I punch, then we see who gonna go to Mars,” Kovalev said.

While it’s easy for us to wonder why the hell Hopkins is back in the ring at his age in another battle against a younger, stronger, faster fighter capable of hastening his retirement with one punch, you have to give Hopkins credit for making it interesting.

It’s like an addictive reality show because with Hopkins you want to know what’s going to happen next.

 

 

 

 

 

Eagles Defense Hopes to Take it to the Next Level in 2014

30 Jul

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Eagles hope Trent Cole and the defense will be even stronger in 2014

Eagles hope Trent Cole and the defense will be even stronger in 2014. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—The big noise at the opening of the Eagles 2014 training camp is how fast will Chip Kelly’s offense be in its second year?

How good will the offense be with the addition of running back Darren Sproles? Will Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper stretch opposing defenses in the way that DeSean Jackson did last season? Can Nick Foles duplicate his success from last season now that he is firmly established as the Birds starting quarterback?

For all the potential of the Birds high-powered offense, the improvement of the Eagles 3-4 defense is going to be the key to the team’s success in 2014. Considering how the New Orleans Saints rolled up over 400 yards of offense against the Eagles in their NFC Wildcard Playoff game last season, there is definitely room for improvement.

While the Eagles defense played well toward the end of the regular season, they finished the season 29th overall and 32nd against the pass. They were 10th against the run and finished tied for third in takeaways-giveaways margin. The Birds also had 37 sacks as a unit and ranked 20th in the league in that category.

In 10 out of their last 12 games, the Eagles held teams to under 100 yards rushing including the regular-season finale against the Dallas Cowboys, who gained just 56 yards on the ground.

“I “I think the biggest thing you saw a year ago, you saw more assignment football,” said Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis. “Guys were studying hard to know their assignment, what was asked of them, and they were trying real hard to get to their assignment and maybe not understanding their whole picture of how they exactly fit with their teammates and how it all came together.”

The one thing that the Eagles, both players and coaches, have been saying throughout organized team activities, minicamps and in the early days of training camp is that they all have a better grasp of the defense in their second year.

“It’s the second year around. …The first year we did a great job,” said inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks. “In the second year, it’s chemistry, camaraderie, checks, plays. It’s all down and so we’re able to focus on the little things. This second year, we should be a whole lot better.”

It helped that the Birds added some players in the secondary. Former Dolphins cornerback Nolan Carroll, who had three interceptions playing for the Miami Dolphins, and former New Orleans Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins will help to shore up an area the Eagles coaches felt was a weakness last season.

The only real position battle on the defense is at the other safety spot between veteran Nate Allen and second-year player Earl Wolfe.

Meanwhile, Davis said the Eagles 2014 No. 1 draft choice linebacker Marcus Smith is still a work in progress in terms of learning the defense. He said Smith, who 14.5 sacks as a senior at Louisville, does have some familiarity with the Eagles scheme because it was similar to what he played in at the collegiate level.

“Marcus is a very hard worker and a very intelligent guy and very athletic,” Davis said. “He’s picked it up fairly quickly and one of the biggest things that attracted us to him was that Louisville and Charlie Strong’s defense was a lot like ours and the way they used him is lot like the way we use our ‘Jack’ position.”

In football lingo, the “Jack” position in a 3-4 defense refers to the outside linebacker serving as the primary pass rusher that can line up on either side of the ball.

For all the flash and dash of the offense, the Birds defense, at this point of the season, doesn’t have an identity in the way that Eagles defenses have had in the past whether you’re talking about the days of Reggie White or the hard-blitzing squads that played for the late Jim Johnson.

“The personality of this group will show itself when we play in the preseason and as we play games on Sunday,” Davis said. “Our goal defensively is to break the rhythm of the offense and to get them off the field as often as possible with turnovers and third downs.”

And so when it comes to the Eagles defense in 2014, fans want to know one thing. …who are these guys?

“Our team is going to come after you and create turnovers,” said defensive end Fletcher Cox. “We’re going to be a hard-nosed defense.”

 

This Woman’s Worth … The Ray Rice Suspension and What the NFL Really Thinks of Women

25 Jul
Janay and Ray Rice's press conference to explain spousal abuse incident in New Jersey.

Janay and Ray Rice’s press conference to explain spousal abuse incident in Atlantic City last February.

By Denise Clay

of the Mad (Political) Scientist

Over the last few years, the National Football League has been trying to attract women by having breast cancer awareness games, and fun events, like my friend Tashyra Ayers’ “Female Football Frenzy” benefit for the American Heart Association.

But it’s going to take a lot more than a bunch of guys wearing pink gloves and shoestrings in October and an appearance from a hunky wide receiver at a benefit to get the taste of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s latest move out of women’s mouths.

On Thursday, Goodell announced that Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice would be serving a two-game suspension for abusing his fiancee’, now wife, Janay in an Atlantic City hotel in February. He’ll also be paying a $58,000 fine and getting some counseling. He’ll also lose more than $500,000 in game checks.

(Or as I like to call it, his Petty Cash…)

“This league is an entity that depends on integrity and in the confidence of the public, and we simply cannot tolerate conduct that that endangers others or reflects negatively on our game,” Goodell said in a letter he sent to Rice telling him of his suspension. “This is particularly true with respect to domestic violence and other forms of violence against women.”

This is a strongly worded letter…for a two-game suspension..

Okay…

But in some light of some other punishments meted out by the league on a few other, not as blatant offenses, I’m a little confused.

So let me get this straight.

In the NFL, killing dogs as part of a dogfighting ring, the offense committed by New York Jets quarterback Michael Vick, gets you first suspended indefinitely, suspended for four games once you’re reinstated, and earns you the permanent enmity of a whole lot of misguided pet lovers.

Shooting yourself in the leg at a nightclub, the offense that put former New York Giants receiver Plaxico Burress on the hot seat, gets you suspended for four games.

Taking a fertility drug in hopes of helping your wife get pregnant, the faux pas that has Indianapolis Colts linebacker Robert Mathis riding the pine, gets you suspended for four games.

But decking your fiancee’ in a casino hotel, dragging her into an elevator and making her sit through a press conference that probably made Kobe Bryant’s wife Vanessa say “Damn! That sucks!” costs you two games and about $500,000.

No wonder Janay Rice looks like she hasn’t got a damn left to give. If I don’t stop scratching my head so hard, I’m gonna need stitches.

Now from everything I’ve read about Ray Rice, the whole “beating the snot out of my significant other” thing is out of character.

But my guess is that it’s not as much “out of character” as it was “finally got caught”.

According to the Institute on Domestic Violence in the African American Community, one-third of all women who have experienced a severe instance of domestic violence will experience another similar event in the same year. African Americans also make up one-third of the intimate partner homicides in the country.

I would be willing to bet my last dollar that Goodell took none of what I just mentioned into consideration when he made his decision.

Now let’s be honest here. The NFL has got a whole lot of issues. In addition to the whole “One of our teams is named for a racial slur” thing, the NFL has a culture of sexism bordering on misogyny.

There, I said it. And I meant it too.

From the cheerleaders for my beloved Oakland Raiders being forced to sue for their pay to the rather ridiculous hygiene rules placed on the Buffalo Bills’ pom-pom wielders, what women have to put up with to be involved with football makes my feminist skin crawl.

And don’t even get me started on the beer-and-testosterone-soaked shenanigans in the stands. Or the way that players use women like napkins. Or the fact that the marriage vows for most of the players should have written on an Etch-A-Sketch.

But if the league is serious about getting women (and their money) into the stands to keep the billions flowing in, it can’t afford to add “tolerance for domestic violence” to that mix.

Because like a woman who’s had enough, we’ll get up and walk away.

Denise Clay is a columnist with the Philadelphia Public Record and writes for her own blog, The Mad (Political) Scientist.  You can check out her columns at denisethewriter1.wordpress.com.

 

Countdown to Training Camp: Can Malcolm Jenkins Lead the Eagles Secondary

17 Jul

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

PHILADELPHIA—The last time the Eagles had a true enforcer at the safety position was in January of 2009 when Brian Dawkins started for the Birds in the NFC Championship game against the Arizona Cardinals.

Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins walking off the field with Eagles backup quarterback Mark Sanchez. Jenkins is fast becoming the leader of the Eagles secondary. Photo by Chris Murray.

Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins walking off the field with Eagles backup quarterback Mark Sanchez. Jenkins is fast becoming the leader of the Eagles secondary. Photo by Chris Murray.

Since then, none of Dawkins successors at that position have come close to matching his intensity or effectiveness at that position. For all that was said about the improvement of the defense in 2013, the Birds defensive coaches were not happy with the play at the safety position-both free and strong.

The Eagles pass defense ranked 32nd in passing yardage and the coaching staff attributed that to the back end of the defense at the safety position. Assistant defensive backs coach Todd Lyght said tackling was the main culprit.

“In an NFL defense, you have to have great tacklers at the safety position because that’s the last line of defense,” Lyght said. “Last year, we missed some tackles at the safety spot that really hurt us and gave up some big yards. That’s part of the game. That’s one area we’ve addressed and we’re going to get better at. … The big thing for us is that we have to be tacklers in the secondary.”

Malcolm Jenkins (27) participates in minicamp drills in late June. Photo by Chris Murray.

Malcolm Jenkins (27) participates in minicamp drills in late June. Photo by Chris Murray.

The most notable acquisition from the offseason is former New Orleans Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins. Defensive Coordinator Billy Davis likes Jenkins versatility because he’s also played at the cornerback position. He said Jenkins is a physical player who is also good at pass coverage.

“I think Malcolm is going to wear a lot of hats for us and hopefully there’s a lot of big hits in the secondary and Malcolm’s apart of that,” Davis said. “His ability to cover, his ability to play multiple roles and wear a lot of hats is what attracted us to him. … He’s not just a box hitter or a post safety, he can do both. I think those are the things that separate Malcolm.”

Last season with the Saints, Jenkins had 68 (44 solo) tackles season with two forced fumbles, two interceptions and six passes defended.
Jenkins said he wants to bring his knowledge of opposing offenses, his ability to deliver a hard hit and his knack for covering receivers.

“In the secondary I feel we have the toughest jobs out on the field and the safety position is demanding because you have to need the knowledge to put guys in the right position because you’re the quarterback of the defense,” Jenkins said.

“It’s also becoming one of those positions where you have to be in the box but you also have to cover receivers and cover tight ends. It’s very demanding both physically and mentally.”

What has impressed the coaching staff about Jenkins during the organized team activities and minicamp is his leadership on and off the field working with players like Earl Wolfe and Nate Allen.

“Malcolm Jenkins is a great leader,” Lyght said. “I love what he’s brought to the room. His intelligence, his tenacity, his intensity in practice and I love his leadership qualities because he doesn’t really get on the players, but the way he leads, he turns everything into a competition which elevates everybody’s intensity.”

Lyght said that Jenkins has had a positive influence on younger players like Wolfe, who went from sitting in the back of the class during film sessions to up front with Jenkins.

Davis said Jenkins often leads the group in film sessions and meetings long before the coaches come into room to get things started.

“They’ve had meetings without us which is a great sign,” Davis said. “These guys get together and they watch film. They’ve got 100 questions. These are the signs that the guys are doing their work.”

During minicamp, Jenkins made that he’s not necessarily the inside the box free safety that Dawkins was or is going to play the role that Earl Thomas plays in the Seattle Seahawks secondary.

“One of the reasons they brought me in is because for this specific scheme you need safeties that can be versatile you don’t have a true free or strong safety,” Jenkins said. “Both guys have to play in the box, both have to cover receivers and both have tight ends and have to be the quarterback.”

 

You Can Go Home Again: LeBron James Wants to Bring an NBA Title to Cleveland

12 Jul

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

LeBron James and Kyrie Irving were teammates at the 2014 All-Star Game. Now they are teammates with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Irving was the MVP of the All-Star Game.

LeBron James and Kyrie Irving were teammates at the 2014 All-Star Game. Now they are teammates with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Irving was the MVP of the All-Star Game.

PHILADELPHIA—LeBron James decision to re-join the Cleveland Cavaliers is reminiscent of that old biblical parable, “The Prodigal Son.”

Four years ago, James left Cleveland as the city’s most hated man since Art Modell moved the old Browns franchise to Baltimore. Today, the city and team owner Dan Gilbert have killed the fatted calf and is welcoming James home with open arms.

While this will go down as a good “feel good” story, the bottom line is that James made a good business decision from a basketball stand point and for his family. In his letter to Sports Illustrated, James made a point to say that he wanted to bring home a title back to Northeast Ohio.

Behold! The next great journey in the Book of James—bringing home a title to a city that hasn’t won a major sports title since 1964 when the Cleveland Browns shut out the Baltimore Colts 27-0 to win the NFL Championship of the pre-Super Bowl era.

What makes this challenge even more unique is that with the Cavaliers there is no guarantee or certainty that this team is going to be in the NBA Finals next year. James will be playing alongside talented young players like point guard Kyrie Irving and No. 1 draft pick Andrew Wiggins. He will also have to get used to a new head coach in David Blatt.

There’s also a possibility of the Cavaliers landing former Minnesota Timberwolves big man Kevin Love. James is also looking for the Cavaliers to bring in shooting forward Mike Miller and possibly Ray Allen, who can still fill it up from three-point range despite being darn near 40.

Unlike 2010 when he jilted Cleveland for a Miami squad that included superstars like DeWayne Wade and Chris Bosh, James will be playing with a rising, young squad in the middle of rebuilding. Compared to his Heat squad that was built to win immediately, James will have to lead a team that will no doubt go through the growing pains of being a playoff tested team.

While a few sports pundits and a few Las Vegas bookies believe that the Cavaliers will be in the NBA Finals next year, I think the process may take a little longer that. I might go with 2016, 2017 or even 2018. And that’s the beauty of the challenge awaiting James and the Cavaliers over the next couple of years.

None of the current group of Cavaliers players has any playoff experience. Can those players elevate their game to be on the same page as James? It is going to be that age-old debate that we have on social media about superstars—who are supposed to make players better around them.

The Cavs will have to make other additions to shore up any weaknesses. The one thing that James will have in Cleveland that he didn’t have in four straight appearances to the NBA Finals (two championships) with the Heat is a true point guard in Kyrie Irving.

The 6-foot-3 Irving averaged a career-high 20 points and 6.1 assists per game. Irving is a speedy ball-handler who can penetrate the defense, attack the basket and hit it from the outside. In three years in the league, Irving is shooting 37 percent from three-point range.

The Irving-James combination, along with a few players to compliment their talents, is eventually going to be hard to beat. If the Miami Heat had a point guard who can penetrate and score like Irving, they would have won four straight crowns instead of two.

But the caveat with Irving is his ability to stay healthy for a full 82 games. He missed 38 games in his first two seasons with a montage of injuries including a broken nose, a fractured jaw and he had a torn bicep last season. He played in 71 of 82 games in 2013-2014.

Irving signed a five-year, $90 million extension through 2020.

With James at his side, maybe Irving doesn’t kill himself every game with the burden of carrying the offense by himself. James can do the hard work of taking the ball to the basket. When you have a point guard like Irving who can penetrate and shoot, you open up the floor for players like James and you know what he can do.

To be sure, the Cavaliers will not win the title overnight. They have to establish team chemistry, hope young guys like Wiggins can develop into solid NBA players, add some pieces and more importantly, stay healthy.

If James can lead a young, rising Cleveland squad to an NBA title, it will certainly add to an already outstanding legacy. This will not be an easy mountain to climb considering that teams like Indiana, Chicago, Washington and other squads in the Eastern Conference are getting better.

The fact that it won’t be easy makes this an even more compelling story. Stay tuned.

 

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