The Cleveland Cavaliers defense has been suspect throughout most of the season, particularly in the pick and roll. They might need to just commit to outscoring teams rather than shutting them down.
Coming into Monday night's showdown with the Wizards, the Cavaliers had been reeling. Sure, they'd just beaten the Knicks and Timberwolves, but that's not a particularly impressive rebound after the January that Cleveland muddled through.
The Wizards win and the Pacers win have shown that the Cavs still haven't exactly figured out how to stop anyone, but those wins have also shown that if they keep this up, they don't need to figure out how to stop anyone.
The scoring numbers are slightly skewed after one of the highest scoring OTs I've ever seen on Monday (20-15 in five minutes), but during this four-game winning streak, the Cavaliers have allowed 97, 104, 120, and 117 points in regulation. Those opponents shot 44% (Minnesota), 45% (New York), 50% (Washington), and 49% (Indiana). These are serious numbers, particularly against those last two good teams.
But get this: Right now it doesn't matter. The Cavs are averaging 122 a game in regulation over these four. It doesn't matter what an opponent does, the Cavs are just playing so well offensively that they can allow the Wizards to run and the Pacers to hit 50% of their three-pointers without ever being out of a game. On Wednesday night, the Cavaliers scored 75 points in the second half. 75!
The Cavaliers offense has been so powerful (albeit occasionally sloppy) that the video below is the perfect metaphor for them this week.
Objectively LeBron should not go one on two. He starts slowly and the Cavs don't have numbers. This is symbolic of how the Cavs have been playing with a starter and looked sloppy over the past month trying to figure out what to do. Also, LeBron not even considering passing can be a symbol of how they've played selfish basketball lately.
LeBron considers this for approximately half of one second, but when he gets to half court he seems to say "Hey wait a second, I'm LeBron G-D James. Who the hell is gonna stop me?" And proceeds to slip past John Wall and right into the waiting arms of Markieff Morris's bout-to-get-dunked-on face. But LBJ doesn't just have a dead-sprint open court dunk here. He isn't even really moving that fast to pass Wall — he's leaning into the defender, dribbling low and going in under control.
Then, again, he remembers that he's LeBron James and pops up from nine feet away from the rim, directly into the chest of a man who is 6'10" and weighs upwards of 240 pounds, and makes that man feel small. For good measure, there's an ever-so-brief moment where LeBron poses to drive the point home before returning down the court.
It's an incredible clip. It's worth letting the loop play over and over again. But it's also a metaphor for the Cavs over the past few weeks.
The Cavaliers, even in their recent wins, have occasionally started slowly. They trailed at half against both Washington and Indiana. But in each game, much like LeBron getting to halfcourt, they suddenly remembered that they're a team loaded with talent. Moreover, this is the attitude over the past week as opposed to the month of January. They can score from anywhere, at any time, in any number of ways.
In the Pacers game, the late third and the early fourth quarter were essentially LeBron lunging into the chest of a giant man and elevating over top of him for a hurtful dunk. Outscoring the Pacers 75-54 in the second half (and it wasn't that close) was when LBJ landed and Kyle Korver hitting every shot that came his way was just that brief moment of near-flexing from LBJ.
Look at how many ways these guys can beat you in the clip below.
First, Irving's shot feels like it's gonna go in even though it's another questionable decision. The Cavaliers are horribly outnumbered here. But it's Kyrie Irving. He's started to make a living based on shots like that. Second, the Cavs are offensive rebounding monsters, even if it's usually Tristan Thompson and not Kevin Love. Then Love gets inside for a (wasted) scoring opportunity. That's two scoring chances here, but he passes it up, trying to get it to Tristan for an easy dunk. He fails, but if LeBron were in Love's place, it may have gotten there, becoming another potential scoring situation. The third true opportunity comes when — ta-da! — one of the best three-point shooters in the league just happens to be hanging out outside the arc, ready to tickle the twine for the game-tying three-point shot.
If it wasn't Korver, it might've been Frye. It might've been Shumpert. If healthy, it might've been JR. If the play had happened in a different direction, it might've been Kyrie. Any of those guys would have nailed that shot more than 40% of the time. That's why the Cavs don't have to stop anyone on defense.
I realize I'm not saying anything groundbreaking here: The best team in the east is really good. Shocking, right? But they've been playing sloppy basketball and there have been lots of negatives lately, so realizing that this offense is so potent in so many ways makes some of that negative stuff drift away.
There are still some things to clean up. The Cavaliers are still 15th in the league in turnovers per game and despite having so many great shooters they're 23rd in the league from the free throw line. However, focusing on the positives, they had back to back wins over good teams on the road despite a banged up roster. They've scored 272 points in those wins.
I'll take it.