Once thought of as a lock to make the finals, the Cleveland Cavaliers have struggled mightily over the second half of the season. The Cavaliers started the season 28-8 and looked poised to challenge for back-to-back championships. Since January, the Cavaliers’ record is roughly .500 and in March they went only 7-10. Are the Cavs’ issues correctable or do they signify a playoff flameout?
On the season, the Cavaliers’ defensive efficiency has slipped all the way to twenty-second in the league. In the month of March, they ranked thirtieth in the league, falling behind even the dreadful Nets. Surely the Cavs are just going to “flip the switch,” aren’t they? Now that’s where things get tricky. Go down the Cavaliers’ roster, how many good defensive players do they actually have? LeBron James obviously, Tristan Thompson, Iman Shumpert… J.R. Smith sometimes, maybe Richard Jefferson on a good day. The rest of the roster has been filled out with offensive players; i.e. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. Even the additions the Cavs have made over the past two seasons have been for offense-first players. They’ve traded for Channing Frye, Kyle Korver, and signed Deron Williams. All of that raises the question, do the Cavaliers even have the personnel to be a good defensive team?
Some of their issues can be attributed to a lack of focus, like this three given up by J.R. Smith.
Perhaps the Cavaliers can “flip the switch”, but it’s fair to question whether the bad habits they’ve developed this season will be correctable in the playoffs.
For all their recent struggles, the Cavaliers have maintained the third best offense in the league, just behind the Houston Rockets and the Golden State Warriors. Another thing that stands out when you look at the Cavaliers’ roster is that they are old, the oldest team in the league in fact. The Cavs are 2-9 on the second night of road back-to-backs this season. If you look at the Cavaliers’ performance in games where they’ve had rest, you rediscover the team that could make a deep playoff run. When they have at least one day of rest, their offense ranks second in the league and they have a record of 43-17, third best in the league in that situation.
Their defense ranks sixteenth in the league in games coming off rest. That’s nothing to hang your hat on, but it’s more manageable than twenty-second. It’s something that a good game plan, attention to detail, and sharper execution could improve. In the playoffs, when the playing ground is level, perhaps this Cavaliers team has a chance.
As they limp into the playoffs, will the Cavaliers be able to overcome their defensive struggles, or will those struggles ultimately lead to their downfall?