STOP me if you’ve heard this before: ‘It doesn’t matter, we all know LeBron will turn it on come the playoffs. The regular season isn’t even important’. In years past that has been true, LeBron and his team have gone through patches of turmoil, only to get out of trouble and emerge as the best team in the East when it matters most. Given their age and defensive woes, they might not be able to escape this year.
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I predicted a big game from King James against the Wizards and in true fashion with his back against the wall LeBron delivered. His offensive outburst captured the attention of fans across the globe and while scoring 57 points is no mean feat, the issues in Cleveland still remained. Even though they poured in 130 points, they still let Washington score a season 122 points while shooting over 53% from the field. We know that the Cavs can outgun a team with their offense, but they can’t stop other teams from scoring in big bunches at the moment either.
MAKING matters worse is the teams that are doing all this damage aren’t really expected to be good this season. The likes of Brooklyn, New Orleans and New York are the ones tearing who have torn to shreds, sending alarm bells ringing. The Atlanta Hawks entered Sunday at 1-8 and the Cavaliers let them score 117 and shoot 11-25 from deep (44%). Coming into this game the Cavs were already the worst team defending the three-point shot and allowed the most points per 100 possessions in the league, but getting lit up the likes of Taurean Prince and Luke Babbitt is just unacceptable.
THEY have only held one opponent so far to single digit makes from behind the arc and that was in their season opener against the Celtics, who probably can be excused for not maintaining concentration given what happened to Hayward earlier in the contest. Perhaps the worst and most glaring example of their poor defense was against the Pacers last week. Excluding Sunday’s games, 199 times a team has allowed their opponent to shoot at least 25 three’s this season. No one has shot a higher percentage than Indiana did against the Cavs (61.5%). Cleveland’s issues weren’t only behind the arc, with the Pacers waltzing to easy 2-on-1 and 3-on-2 fastbreaks scoring with ease, while their opponents struggled to get back on defense and contest shots.
Image from nba.com
TYRONN Lue signalled that his players were out of shape and mentally complacent which has led to defensive lapses early on. It’s easy to understand why a team that has played 59 extra games of playoff action in the past three years would be tired and fatigued given the earlier start to the season. In those last 59 playoff games, LeBron has played a total of 2,410 minutes which is almost the equivalent of another entire season (James averages 2,948 minutes a year in the regular season). He isn’t the only fatigued Cav with the likes of Tristan Thompson, Kevin Love and Iman Shumpert all exposed to lengthy minutes/game totals.
WITH an ageing supporting cast there is no magical buyout candidate or trade the Cavaliers can create that will instantly fix their problems. The impending return of Isaiah Thomas might even make things worse with IT not known for his defensive talents. Just 10 games into the season you don’t want to appear unfit, fatigued and struggling on defense, but that’s where Cleveland finds itself. They now have to compete without Tristan Thompson, who is probably the best defender on the team not named LeBron James) for at least a month after he suffered a calf injury.
Image from washingtonpost.com
FOR the wise-heads in the locker room, it will be tough to find the right mix of trying to win every night while also trying to keep their bodies fresh for the playoffs. After ‘cruising’ through the regular season the last few years though it’s clear that they can’t do that in 2017-18 with a youthful bunch of teams gunnin’ for their crown. Time to switch on Cleveland.