The Cavaliers were looking like the favorite in the East midway through the season. Going into the All-star break they were 39-16, the best record in the East, and the 4th best in the league. Since then they’ve gone 8-11, only one win better than the worst team in the league (Brooklyn Nets) who’ve gone 7-12 since the break. With their 3rd consecutive loss coming last night against the Bulls, it might be time to panic in Cleveland.
So who or what is to blame for their poor play of late? I mean on paper, this is arguably the second best team in the league, if not the best. Well, we can start with their defense. In the past 14 games the Cavaliers have been absolutely awful defensively, the Los Angeles Lakers being the only team with a worse defensive rating. The Cavs have gone 5-9 in those games.
That is the main problem for this team. They’ve invested heavily in offense, while paying little attention to their defense. Kevin Love, Kyle Kover, J.R. Smith, Kyrie Irving… Are any of those guys defensive specialists? Absolutely not. Kyrie is a scorer, and the other three are shooters, and that’s that.
Last night facing the Bulls their lackluster defense was on full display. Nikola Mirotic, the 3rd year player from Real Madrid, absolutely burned Kevin Love. Mirotic, whose averaged 10.4 ppg this season, scored 28 points, hitting 9-15 from the field, including 6-11 from deep. Kevin Love just couldn’t get out there quick enough to alter his shot.
Since the All-Star break, when LeBron is on the bench, the Cavs get outscored 16.7 points per 100 possessions. This highlights another huge problem for this team: they are relying far too heavily on LeBron James.
LeBron has been playing some of the best basketball of his career this season. His averages of 8.4 rebounds, and 8.8 assists will both set new career-highs, and his 26 ppg average is the highest he’s had since coming back to Cleveland.
This is the point in the season when teams should be cutting their stars minutes to keep them fresh for a finals run, but the Cavs just can’t do it. If LeBron isn’t on the floor the Cavaliers are lost. Since the All-Star break LeBron is +4.4, while Kyrie is -1.2, and Love, since returning from injury, is -15.1.
This is the team that came back from down 3-1 to the team with the best regular season record ever! That was just last season! Yet, today, they look like a completely different team. They’re looking like the 2007 Cavaliers, and if his teammates don’t shape up, they’ll have the same exact result in the end of it all: a 4-0 sweep in the Finals.