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LeBron James could return to Cavaliers Tuesday

Photo Credit: BleacherReport.com

Photo Credit: BleacherReport.com

LeBron James has missed the Cleveland Cavaliers’ last eight games due to left knee and lower back strains, but he could return to the lineup against the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday, according to Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports. James is set to participate in practice on Monday, and if all goes well, the four-time MVP will return to the lineup.

The return of James couldn’t come any sooner for Cleveland. The Cavaliers have gone 1-7 over the last eight games, with the only victory a narrow 91-87 triumph over a bad Charlotte Hornets team. Similarly, Cleveland is just 1-7 against the spread in those eight games, according to VegasInsider.com.

Without James, the Cavaliers have been awful on both sides of the ball, despite still having two stars in Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving on the roster. (Love and Irving each missed a different game during this stretch.) Cleveland scored just 95.3 points per 100 possessions over the eight games, and they gave up 108.0 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com. Only the New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers were worse offensively during that span, and only the Knicks, Minnesota Timberwolves and Toronto Raptors were worse defensively.

The Cavaliers currently sit at 19-19, which is sixth in the Eastern Conference. With the team scuffling and in need of some help, general manager David Griffin pulled off two trades last week in an effort to improve the roster. The first trade sent Dion Waiters to the Oklahoma City Thunder and brought J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert to Cleveland. Smith has played in three games with the Cavaliers, but he has been a huge dud in two of them. Shumpert is still recovering from a shoulder injury.

The second trade involved trading draft picks to the Denver Nuggets for center Timofey Mozgov. Cleveland brought in Mozgov to help improve the rim protection, and although the big man has been productive in his first two games with the team, the defense hasn’t seen much improvement.

The return of James, as well as Shumpert and Shawn Marion, will certainly help. James should help the offense return to elite or near-elite levels, but major questions will continue to remain on defense. James has declined on the defensive end this year, whether it’s due to effort or natural physical decline or a bit of both. Shumpert has a lot of potential on that end, but he needs to find a modicum of consistency. Marion is aging and isn’t what he once was, although he still has some value on defense.

But the returns of those players might not be enough. There are four teams in the Eastern Conference significantly better than the Cavaliers right now, and while James changes the complexion of everything, there are no guarantees they can even make it out of the first round. There’s still time for Cleveland to turn things around, but that time is beginning to run short.



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