The Cleveland Cavaliers got steamrolled by the San Antonio Spurs last night with a final score of 74-103. The 29 point loss dropped the Cavaliers to second in the Eastern Conference for the first time since late 2015. The unraveling of the Cavs does not appear to have an end in sight, as the squad dropped to 6-9 for the month of March. They were 7-8 for the month of January, as 2017 has not been too bright for them thus far.
The biggest issue is the team’s glaring deficiencies on the defensive side of the basketball. Since January 1, 2017 the Cleveland Cavaliers have given up 100 point games 31 times, which is the most in the entire NBA. They have given up 40 point quarters 6 times this year and are currently sparring 115.1 points per 100 possessions in the month of March. That is another mark that would be the worst in the NBA this season. All of this despair is not the recipe for championship basketball in case you were wondering.
How bad is the defense?
Bad as s***. So bad that we should probably drop the D from Cleveland and make it Clevelan since the team’s D has been missing, for majority of the year. The team is 22nd in defensive efficiency, in other words they are traveling uncharted territory for most playoff teams. The only other playoff teams worse than Cleveland defensively is Portland at 23rd and Denver at 29th. Unlike Cleveland they are not really “title contenders” as both are currently fighting each other for the last spot in the western conference playoffs.
Did I mention that Clevelan’s D was bad as s***? The interior is as soft as Charmin, if not softer. Tristan Thompson looks weaker and more confused each possession. About as confused as Khloe Kardashian deciding what NBA basketball player she wants to date each season. The backcourt is routinely having difficulty staying in front of their man, just ask John Wall or Dion Waiters who have both taken turns feasting on Cleveland’s middle and abusing their perimeter. Rotations with help defense is slow or failing to show at all and effort is lacking. LeBron had some choice words about this. The Cavaliers are also bottom feeders in defending the 3 point line, at 20th and they are 28th in forcing turn overs.
What’s with the health?
Are the team’s struggles a lack of toughness as LeBron suggested or simply a result of inconsistent lineups? In what LeBron credits as “one of the most challenging seasons” of his career the Cavaliers have been victims of the injury bug for majority of the season. JR Smith missed 3 months with a broken thumb on his shooting hand. Kevin Love has missed 21 games. Andrew Bogut only lasted 57 seconds before breaking his left leg then getting waived from the team. So much for interior help. Now Kyle Korver and Iman Shumpert are out nursing minor injuries. On top of that, with just 10 games remaining in the season getting quality practice time with the full team is nearly impossible. This forces newer comers, Deron Williams, Derrick Williams and Kyle Korver to learn and gel on the fly. While they learn, Washington and Boston have wasted no time closing in on Cleveland’s steap learning curve.
“This has been one of the most challenging seasons of my career just because of all the injuries. It’s been very challenging on our ball club, the lineups and different guys in and out. We get one guy com in and then we get another guy out.”~ LeBron James
What does it all mean?
Acknowledge the obvious issue but don’t panic. On paper the Cavaliers are a very deep team, and depth is a heck of a weapon in the playoffs. See Golden State’s 2015 “Strength in Numbers” Finals victory. The Cavs are not the team they were last year, as personnel is different and health has been much more inconsistent. The Cavaliers are 24th in defending the fast break and they were 7th in that category last season.
The 2001 Lakers are the last team to win a NBA title being ranked outside of the top 10 defensively. The Cavs ranked 9th defensively during the regular season last year and flipped the gear even further in the playoffs. This year they head into the playoffs at 22, thus they have a long ways to go in improvement. LeBron and company has proven to be able to turn it on strong in the post season but realistically speaking, LeBron James is coming off six straight seasons of playing into June and this season he is only 2nd to Kyle Lowry in minutes by a thread of a hair. The team is also ranked as the slowest team in the league, which is surprising considering that they have two of the best finishers at the rim in Kyrie and LeBron.
As far as the number 1 seed, that is more of an unnecessary accolade for LeBron led teams, as they have focused less and less on that over the years. LeBron has won at least 1 game on the road in his last 25 playoff series. in 2015, his Cavaliers swept the number 1 seed Atlanta Hawks. Home court certainly would likely mean more to both Boston or Washington than it would for Cleveland and that’s just being honest. Yes, the Cavs have struggled to beat the great teams this year, and even those that they should definitely beat but the only thing stopping Cleveland from advancing out the East is themselves. Health willing, they should be fine. Now about playing the team that represents the west? We will cross that path when it comes, but after three series of playoff basketball out east, the defense should be battle tested before that time comes.
What do you think? Is Cleveland in trouble or will they turn on a greater switch come playoff time?
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