Former Detroit Pistons star Richard Hamilton picked the Cleveland Cavaliers to win the NBA title before the start of the season and he’s not changing his prediction now, even as LeBron James and Co look vulnerable in the midst of a tough stretch.
Cleveland couldn’t be playing much worse as they enter a marquee match-up with the Golden State Warriors tonight (UAE: 05:00 +1), having dropped eight of their last 11 games in a concerning run that has once again raised questions over their status as contenders.
Yet Hamilton, who won a championship with the 2003-04 Detroit Pistons and was a three-time All-Star during his 14-year career, remains confident in the Cavaliers.
“I still think the Warriors are the team to beat, but I think Cleveland is going to win. That’s my own personal prediction,” Hamilton told Sport360° ahead of the second meeting between Golden State and Cleveland this season.
“I mean you have the best player on the planet with LeBron James. The one thing about LeBron is he challenges his team in different ways. But if you look at how that team is made up, that team is made up to win a championship. That team is not made up to lead the regular season with wins in the Eastern Conference. You have guys on that team like Dwyane Wade, the veterans they brought in like Isaiah Thomas, those guys play their best basketball when the playoffs start.”
Much of Cleveland’s woes this season have centred on the defensive end, where they’re allowing the second-most points per 100 possessions in the league at 109.3.
Hamilton knows a thing or two about what it takes to succeed defensively, with his successful Pistons teams of the previous decade known for their ability to limit opponents.
While the Cavaliers’ effort has fluctuated wildly, the 39-year-old Hamilton believes their defensive struggles have been more about the players on the roster and how coach Tyronn Lue mixes and matches lineups.
It’s a problem Cleveland can choose to fix in the playoffs, as long as defence eventually becomes the focus, according to Hamilton.
“I think with the Cavaliers, it’s more about their personnel. It all depends on what kind of team they’re going to try to be, especially in the playoffs,” he said.
“Are they going to be a 3-point shooting team or are they going to be a defensive-minded team? That’s more of a concern to me.
“Who is Tyronn Lue going to put in for different situations? If they’re going to try to out-shoot someone like Golden State, I think they just can’t. Your best shooters are not your best defenders and your best defenders are not your best shooters.
“So if they feel they’re going to concentrate more on defence and say ‘alright, you know what, a guy like Jae Crowder is going to play more minutes than Kyle Korver because defensively his impact on the floor is better’. It’s something Tyronn Lue has to figure out.”
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