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The Numbers Game: How Far Away Are Streaking Cavs from West's Best?

HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 15:  Kyrie Irving #2 of the Cleveland Cavaliers drives with the ball in front of James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets during their game at the Toyota Center on January 15, 2016  in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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Adam FromalNational NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 18, 2016

Since Kyrie Irving's return from rehabbing his injured knee on Dec. 20, the Cleveland Cavaliers are once again streaking toward the top of the NBA. Heading into Monday night's marquee matchup against the Golden State Warriors, they've won nine of their last 10 games while outscoring opponents by 12.2 points per 100 possessions.

If the strength of the team's Big Three is any indication, Cleveland is drawing closer to the three premier Western Conference powers (keep in mind that the league-average net rating is always zero): 

The Cavs' three-man wrecking crew doesn't quite match up against the Warriors' super troika, but it's almost keeping pace with the Thunder trio.

That gap is also starting to close.

Behind Irving, LeBron James and Kevin Love, Cleveland has actually produced a better net rating over its last 10 games than two of the three Western leaders. The San Antonio Spurs are the only exception, thrashing opponents during their current 11-game winning streak and boosting their season-long net rating to an all-time-best 15.1.

But even if the Cavs aren't emerging as the clear-cut superiors in either of these categories, the very fact they're close is good news for the East's presumptive No. 1 seed. Irving, James and Love will only gain more chemistry as the season progresses, and they're already playing at a jaw-dropping level. 

Last season, the three stars finished the year outscoring their opponents by 13.6 points per 100 possessions when they all shared the court. With the trio already outpacing that production, the rest of the NBA needs to start worrying about the level these Cavs could reach. 

"All our pieces getting back, we're still finding our rhythm," Irving told ESPN.com's Dave McMenamin after closing out a six-game road trip with a decisive win over the Houston Rockets on Friday. "It's still coming though. It's still coming. It hasn't clicked for us yet, but games like this where we show our resiliency...we're showing signs of being a good team so we just got to continue to keep it up."

It's not just the Big Three that will help the Cavaliers compete with the elites in the other half of the Association. Improved players such as Tristan Thompson and Matthew Dellavedova will make a difference. So too will the veterans—Anderson Varejao and Richard Jefferson, for example. 

HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 15: Tristan Thompson #13 and LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers defend the basket against Clint Capela #15 of the Houston Rockets during the game on January 15, 2016 at Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User exp
Bill Baptist/Getty Images

Cleveland has plenty of talent scattered throughout its rotations. However, it lags behind the Mariana Trench-level of depth that the Warriors and Spurs boast, which is precisely what makes these burgeoning levels of confidence and chemistry so vital during the attempt to end Northeast Ohio's seemingly perpetual title drought.

Everything begins with the Big Three, but Irving, James and Love still need help. After all, the NBA's other powerhouses also have pretty decent triumvirates at their disposal.  

 

Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.

All stats, unless otherwise indicated, are from Basketball-Reference.com or Adam's own databases and are current heading into games on Jan. 18.

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