Happy Tuesday, WFNY!
Whether you are here because you visit this site every day, or if you were merely suckered in by that incredibly click-baity headline, welcome! My name is Andrew and every Tuesday morning I dump some thoughts about Cleveland sports into this here While We’re Waiting segment.
If you’re here for the click-bait, I’ll at least save you some time. No, the Cleveland Cavaliers are not actually a bad basketball team. They are actually a very good team and they will probably (probably) represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals. Probably.
The Cavaliers are a good basketball team playing absolutely garbage basketball right now. If you want excuses, Ty Lue and the gang have them for you. The team is tired, the schedule has been crappy, they’ve been ravaged by injuries all season, they can’t catch a break, the team isn’t focused on the regular season, they’re still working in a lot of new faces and they haven’t had much practice time to do so. All of those are legit, by the way.
I don’t think there’s any one reason for why the Cavs are struggling right now. There is a multitude of factors at play here. In fact, there are probably even more factors than we realize because we don’t have the slightest idea what is going on in the personal lives of these players. As Craig Lyndall likes to say, it’s easy to forget sometimes that professional athletes are human beings. Yes, they get paid a lot of money to play a game. That does not make them immune to the same personal issues that plague all of us in our real lives.
Which is really a long way of saying, I don’t know what’s wrong with the Cavs right now. All I know is that the way the team is playing right now is nowhere near the level they are capable of playing at and it’s obvious something is wrong. Or, as Scott Sargent put it in his Behind the Box Score last night,
“The Cavs are not in a good place right now, with March looking more like January, a month that saw the team go below .500. Since the All-Star Break, they’re the second-worst defensive team in basketball and are showing very little in the way of ability to right the ship. They have yet to hold a team under 100 points on the road all season, and just saw their standing among the Eastern Conference drop to No. 2, sitting a half-game back of the Boston Celtics.”
So this is the part where we decide if we need to freak out now or not.
Me? I’m not there yet. Sure, I’m concerned about what I’m seeing with this team. The level of defense (or lack thereof) this team is playing is baffling to me. I never expected this to be a good defensive team, but I certainly thought they could play mediocre defense, at least. If this team defends, their offense is generally good enough to be in a position to win any given game. The problem right now is just how atrocious the defense has been.
Right now, if the Cavaliers are on absolute fire from three, they will win a close game. If they are average from three, it will be a coin toss game that could go either way. If they are sub par? Well, you have games like last night against the San Antonio Spurs. We’re all familiar with the “live by the three, die by the three” platitude, but when you play defense as poorly as the Cavs are, it becomes more of “struggle by the three, get obliterated by the three”.
But back to the original point and the headline. We know the Cavs aren’t a bad basketball team. We’ve seen how well this team can play. When going through a rough stretch like this, it’s sometimes hard to remember, but this team has had stretches where they look unstoppable. Everyone knows the Cavs aren’t playing good enough basketball right now to repeat. I promise you the players know it as well. The question will be if they can turn everything around in April as they head into the playoffs.
Believe it or not, the Cavaliers only have nine more games remaining in the regular season. Opening night against the New York Knicks, when the NBA Champions banner was raised into the rafters in the Q seems like it was a decade ago. It’s been a ridiculously long season for the Cavaliers. The roster has changed constantly whether it be via trade, free agent signings, injuries. The only thing consistent for this team has been inconsistency.
So why am I not concerned? Well, because the NBA playoffs actually promote consistency. You never play back-to-backs, the game slows down, you play the same team every day, and most teams shrink their rotations to seven or eight players. Sure, injuries still happen, but just by the nature of the structure and playstyle of the playoffs, you get more consistency. For the Cavaliers, that increased structure should be a huge benefit.
Right now, the Cavaliers are mostly getting killed by teams running on them. No, the half court defense isn’t great either right now, but it’s in transition where they are really getting destroyed. In the playoffs, fast break opportunities tend to be more limited for a variety of reasons. If the Cavaliers can start by just focusing on tightening up their half court defense, they should be fine in the East.
They say defense is mostly a matter of effort. That’s not entirely true. Some players simply lack the lateral quickness to be an above average defender in the NBA no matter how hard they try. But effort can mask a lot of other deficiencies and I think it’s fair to admit the Cavaliers’ effort and focus hasn’t been at 100% for most of this regular season. As the playoffs approach, and LeBron activates “Zero Dark Thirty – 23”, and everyone dials in a little more, I see no reason why the results shouldn’t start to improve.
Of course I am more concerned about the Cavs getting out of the East than I was a few months ago. I’m not quite as positive that they will be able to turn everything back on in time for the playoffs. But in general, I’m not panicking or freaking out. I don’t like the way the Cavaliers are playing, but I know how good this team is capable of playing. And like any great procrastinator, nothing is more motivating than the floor flying at your face. There’s no more room for excuses or justifications. The playoffs are fast approaching, and the Cavaliers will have two weeks in April to get things sorted out. I think they will be fine.