The Cavs' fixable struggles, injuries and poor defense.
It has become a tradition when the Cleveland Cavaliers lose a game; everyone loses their collective minds. Fans do their best impression of Chicken Little as they run through town arms flailing, screaming and warning about the sky which is on its way down and the forthcoming doom this season will bring. Like clockwork, mere moments after a loss fans, in droves, flood the ESPN trade machine and begin solving problems with ludicrous trades and then post their solutions on Twitter. They do this, no doubt, in hopes that the General Manager will see them and say something along the lines of, “Why didn’t I see that!?” He would then jump into action and pull the trigger on a ludicrous trade that brings a starting five worth of all-stars in exchange for a bag of chips, Tristan Thompson, Iman Shumpert and some cash considerations. If you throw in Kevin Love, they may even find a way to snag a legend. Michael Jordan could be had, or maybe a young Kobe acquired deftly from a distracted GM who is far too confused by the tear in the fabric of time to accurately weigh the pros and cons.
While we would all love to see Michael Jordan and LeBron James play together, the problem Cavs have is not one that can be solved by a simple addition of a player, no matter how great that player may be. Plus, who wants to deal with the fallout that is bound to emerge due to the grandfather complex? After the loss to the Pelicans, LeBron was somewhat bothered but admittedly not too concerned. After all, they are only six games into the season, they are down a starting point guard and his back-up, and they have new players that have to assimilate and learn to function within the system. Also, five different starting lineups in six games certainly don't help their quest to balance things out and begin seeing consistent production from those most affected by the many changes this offseason brought. This is not to say that the Cavs don’t have a problem and that everything will solve itself once the point guard or point guards get healthy, this is merely a reminder that the sky is not falling, yet.
“That’s what professionals do. No ego. He saw it was best for the team for him to come off the bench. It was his call and here we are.”
When the season started the Cavs made it clear what type of team they wanted to be. By putting Love at the five and Crowder at the four, it was evident that this was going to be a floor-spacing three-point shooting offense oriented team. There were two pretty significant issues with that strategy; one went by the name of Derrick Rose and the other, Dwayne Wade. While the two all-stars are tailor-made for the “sacrifice defense” part of the plan, the “floor spacing offensive juggernaut” bit, fits them about as well as a devoted husband description fits Tiger Woods. As a result, Wade was benched for J.R. Smith, who should never have been taken out of the starting lineup, anyway. It doesn’t make Tyronn Lue look too good when he says that Wade gave up the starting spot himself. This either means that Lue was too intimidated to ask a player of Wade’s caliber to come off the bench or, and this is worse, he didn’t see any issues with the decision to start him in the first place. In Rose’s case, he was always a starter out of necessity because of the injured Isiah Thomas, and he performed very well overall, until he too, succumbed to injury. So changes are being made, Lue is tinkering with the lineup and trying to find the winning combination until at least one of their point-guards returns. He will figure it out, even shorthanded the Cavs will hit their stride soon enough, there are far too many talented players on that team for them to struggle for too long. Besides, as weird as it is, the three games they won came against very good teams while the three losses were to teams that, aside from New Orleans, should have been easier to beat than a dead horse. Speaking of beating a dead horse, the real problem with the Cavs is their defense. I know, it is hard to believe that I somehow solved a room-full of cryptic Rubix cubes that hold the secret to the Cavaliers’ woes and that I would reveal such an insightful and never before making the observation so casually. I’ll give you a minute to take it all in. Done? Ok.
“We're running around here worrying about getting the Brooklyn pick, they might want our pick.”
I would call the defensive effort this season pitiful but after watching the last game, to use the word effort in any capacity would be inappropriate. The defense is lazy, lethargic and disinterested. To be fair, New Orleans, while they may not be an “elite” team, the two-punch combo of DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis can throw the best of teams off their game. Considering that the rest of the NBA is getting ever smaller, having two towering wrecking balls up front can be tough to defend. At the same time, you should still try.
The Cavs cannot expect to score more than 120 points per game, something their current defense would require of them, nor should they want to. Crowder is an excellent defender, J.R. Can be a pest when he wants to, Tristan Thompson can defend the paint and to a lesser extent the perimeter, Love is not as bad as most make him out to be and LeBron James, well he can do everything. Sure the most significant benefit of adding Crowder was to have a guy who could help James take the odd playoff while bolstering the defense, but Crowder can’t be the only one defending. If the Cavs expected to step back and leave him to it while they focus on offense and scoring they have significantly overestimated Crowder's abilities.
The good news for the Cavs is that their issue is fixable, but it is not a light switch. It is not something that can be turned on once the playoffs start. It does take practice and coordination. Having to discuss this is crazy, the Cavs should want to defend; it should be a point of pride. You don’t want teams and players setting records against you. It is akin to being posterized. Kobe had that 81 point game against the Raptors, and even if they win five championships in a row, most will still know them as a team that inexplicably allowed a teams’ worth of points to be scored by one player. The Cavs have got the offense down if they want that championship they have to, HAVE to play great defense. No matter how many points you score, and no matter how big a lead you get out to, poor defense gives teams an excellent chance to come from behind, and to teams like the Warriors, you can’t afford to give if only a sliver of a chance. The sky isn’t falling, but the defensive intensity certainly has. The Cavs can fix this, but they have to want to do it.