Hunkering down

posted by Bruce Hooley -

January is over and the NBA all-star break approaches later this week, so it's time for the whining to stop and the Cleveland Cavaliers’ playoff preparations to begin.

The Cavs have won five of six games this month since leaving the bellyaching and bickering of a 7-8 start to the new year behind.

LeBron James isn't chirping at management about getting help and he's not waging a war of words with Charles Barkley any more. There’s no time for that nonsense now with Kevin Love out six weeks after arthroscopic knee surgery on Tuesday.

A dialed-in LeBron means a locked-in Cavalier locker room, and you can see that in the way the Cavs have played recently entering a Tuesday night game at Minnesota.

That's a good thing heading into the All-Star break, which will arrive this weekend after the Cavs play Wednesday at home against Indiana.

After that, the Cavs won't play for 8 days, giving them time to rest their legs and time for their front office to dig deeper into possible trades before the Feb. 23 trade deadline.

Keep your eye on Deron Williams of the Dallas Mavericks as a possible target for the Cavs, perhaps in exchange for Iman Shumpert. Or, if Cavs GM David Griffin really wants to get creative, he might attempt a bigger deal for both Taj Gibson and Rajon Rondo of the Chicago Bulls.

That would give the Cavs both the big man and the backup point guard James has boldly stated the team needs.

LeBron is a little less bothered these days about the roster around him, though, thanks to a savvy bit of dumpster diving by Griffin last week.

Former No. 2 overall pick Derrick Williams has been added to the roster on a 10-day contract that will almost assuredly wind up being for the remainder of the season, particularly if Williams continues to play the way he has through his first two games with Cleveland.

Williams went in the draft right after Kyrie Irving and two spots before Tristan Thompson in 2011. Williams NBA career has since been a nightmare of stop after stop at the league's most forlorn outposts: Minnesota, Sacramento, the New York Knicks and the post-LeBron Miami Heat.

Every time Williams thought he found a home, he got shipped elsewhere. He became so frustrated he asked for and received his release in Miami.

Twenty-nine teams could have claimed him before the Cavs, but instead, they all passed, so the 6-7 Williams wound up in wine-and-gold and, so far, at least, he looks like a great pickup.

First, he's a young body, at just 25 years of age. He's not a broken-down, best-days-behind him addition to the roster like Mike Miller or Mike Dunleavy Jr.

Williams still has tread on his tires, and he's versatile enough to back up James or play defense against opposing point guards. That skill set could come in handy in the Finals if the Cavs run into Golden State again.

Clearly, that was on head coach Tyron Lue's mind on Saturday night when he put Williams out there for the entire second quarter against Denver and then later paired him with James, Richard Jefferson, Channing Frye and Kyle Korver.

There's no one under 6-7 in that group, which could be a preview of how the Cavs intend to play Golden State's death lineup with three-point shooters at every position.

"It's a fantastic lineup (and) it worked well for us,” James said. “We got up the floor, got stops, shared the ball, so it's a pretty good lineup. It's something that coach has in his back pocket if he wants to use it again."

To play and beat the Warriors, you almost have to be able to switch defensively at every position. Williams allows the Cavs to do that, but there's obviously some holes in his game or he wouldn't be playing for his fifth team in six years.

So far, he's averaging 9.5 points on 83.3 percent shooting. That shooting percentage isn't going to continue, but its a good start toward earning Williams a longer shot with the Cavs than the teams who passed on him thought he was worth.

“I took that as a little disrespectful,” Williams said. “I’ve got a little chip on my shoulder now.”

Hey, whatever it takes.

I don't want to mislead you about Williams’ potential. It's unrealistic to expect him to make the sort of impact that a No. 2 overall pick is expected to deliver, but he could wind up a great role player for the Cavs.

After all, doesn't everyone seem to play a lot better when LeBron is on the same roster, occupying the lion's share of the defense's attention?

The best thing Williams appears to have in his corner is James appearing determined to make the newest Cavalier fit in with his new teammates.

“We hope that this is a place that can help him grow and make that next step,” James said. “He's 25 years old. It doesn't seem like it because we've been hearing his name for so long. But he's 25. He hasn't even gotten to his potential, to his prime yet, so hopefully this group, this locker room, myself, my leadership (helps)."

I sure like hearing those kinds of things from James a lot more than I did hearing him gripe about having no help around him.

The Cavs need him focused to fight off the challenges of playing without Love until he returns in six weeks or so.

That will leave the team time to gear up for the defense of its title. But any hope of getting James additional rest so he’s no longer leading the league in minutes probably vanished when Love went under the knife.

 PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

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