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We're Going Streaking

W. Ross Clites
Your City Sports-Cleveland

Cleveland--There are many ways to measure the consistency of a sports team during the course of a season. For me, I turn to wins in a month. No matter the sport, you have to produce victories in every interval in order to be considered an established winner. Even football, which has the shortest season in terms of games, has multiple months to chart the flow of wins and losses.

If you think total wins in a month mean nothing, ask Tony Romo how it felt to finally win a game in December this past season. Fans are educated; they know what time of year is synonymous with a nosedive in the standings.

In the NBA, the ship that never seems to waiver is guided by a sturdy captain--LeBron James.

On Wednesday night, the Cavs hung onto a 99-94 victory at Quicken Loans Arena. In doing so, they clinched the third division crown in franchise history. LeBron was a lone assist and lone rebound shy of his 24th career “uber” triple double (25+ points, 10+ assists, and 10+ rebounds).

The Cavs could never seem to shake free in a game of runs. What ultimately did the Pacers in was the start of the second half. The Cavs, specifically LeBron, stormed out of the locker room on a mission. A 16-2 run (9 of the points coming from James) began the third quarter. The spurt put the Cavs up 15 points, headed towards a blow-out.

Even without their best player, Danny Granger, the Pacers would not go quietly. It took a fourth quarter block by LeBron--that denied the Pacers the lead--to swing the momentum for good. It was the 54th win on the season for the Cavs, and LeBron’s 32 points put him over the 2,000 point mark for the sixth season in his career.

This 2009-10 does not have the overall record it did last year, but it is redefining NBA consistency. Last night’s win was more than just another victory. It extended a silent streak. Records surrounding cumulative wins in a month are nice, but months do not carry equal days or identical disbursement of games on the schedule. More impressive is having a sizable winning streak represented in every month of a season. It is downright unparalleled.

In calculating this streak, the first step is to throw out this past October. Cleveland played only four games during this month and thus does not qualify. That month was a statistical outlier anyway. The Cavs were stunned by how last season came to a close and it took some time for the ball to get rolling.

In every full month of the 2009-2010 season, the Cavs have had at least a 5-game winning streak. They strung together one in November, two in December, one in January that spanned 13 games and rolled over and counted for February. And last night, LeBron & Co. captured their fifth straight March victory to keep the streak alive. They are the most stable on-the-court product in sports going right now.

I will admit that the record is a quirky one and is not soon to be recognized. However, it does not need to be talked about to have value. It is simply a measuring stick to gauge a much deeper attribute--cohesion. It proves that the Cavs’ season has lacked turbulence.

James has an impeccable way of putting his gang neatly in their tailored roles. It is this trait that elevates him above Kobe, and puts the Cavs above the Lakers accordingly. The Lakers do have a large sum of wins this year, but their win two-lose one method has caused analysts to question their chemistry. Even though both have 50 wins, no L.A. runs have been sustained quite like this year’s Cavs.

Even when the Cavaliers dropped three consecutive games some 30 days ago, no one questioned their postseason outlook because of it. A similar losing streak by the Lakers resulted in a closed-door team meeting and a strange hair decision by Ron Artest. Neither has seemed to take the drama out of Hollywood.

Kobe has resorted to post-game interviews as his soap box to send a message to his team. He has challenged them to get better on several public occasions. It does not sound like a team that has all the loose ends shored up. And it sure does not sound like something LeBron would, or needs, to do. It is currently all smiles in his family.

Perhaps the difference in panic (or the lack thereof in Cleveland) could have been attributed to the law of averages. Before their 3-game skid, Cleveland had won a franchise-record 13 in a row. They were bound to lose a few here or there; they just happened to link them altogether. It was also the arrival of new acquisitions to the roster and the need for adjustments.

This is the real reason Cleveland is better than last year. It can be summed up in one word: response. Since dropping those three straight in February, they have countered with wins in 11 of their last 12 games. Also, those turned out to be the only 3 losses of February. Any small adversity fuels this group to reach even higher.

In fact, the Cavs have maintained a winning percentage above .725 in each month since the start of November. Cleveland fans are witnesses to more than LeBron’s greatness; they get to see consistency incarnated in a basketball team.

From a spectator’s perspective, the strange thing is how easy these 5-game streaks come to the Cavs. No one really knows about this streak because winning five in a row has become old hat. Until win streaks approach double-digits it is hardly a headline. The fans are being spoiled.

Even more impressive is how far back this streak dates back. Last season, a win against the Phoenix Suns started an inconspicuous 5-game streak in February. Then came March of 2009 and the first 13-game win streak in Cavs’ history. Perhaps the most remarkable piece of the puzzle came in April. Take into consideration that the Cavs only had 8 games to come up with a 5-game win streak that month--the regular season only runs until the middle of April. And they still did it. They even threw in an 8-game playoff winning streak to start the playoffs for good measure.

All told, that is eight consecutive qualifying months (in regular-season basketball terms) in which the Cavaliers have linked together 5 or more wins.

Cleveland has as a streak of streaking. Onward to April. If they match last season’s feat in this shortened month, LeBron will once again be steering his ship into the playoffs on a high note. Stumbling in might be even scarier for the rest of the Eastern Conference. LeBron only knows one way to respond--a maniacal win streak. The Cavs do not need a 5-game win streak in June; they just need the four wins that matter in the end. Fans will gladly take them in any order they come.

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