Other than the fact they appear old and slow, don’t seem to care a whole lot and look more like a bunch of individuals than a team that has reached three straight NBA Finals, there’s not much to be concerned about regarding the Cavaliers.
The qualifier is that the NBA season is just two weeks old and we’re still in October — and that the Cavs have proved in previous years that the seemingly endless 82-game regular season doesn’t matter a whole lot — but this team, if it can be called that, has some serious issues right now.
Sure, there are eight new faces.
Sure, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade and Iman Shumpert have missed time due to injury.
Sure, LeBron James played in just one exhibition game due to a bum ankle.
All that has added to what we already knew was going to be an adjustment period, but that’s no excuse for a lack of effort, fire, determination, commitment and professionalism.
We are talking about a team that got beat 114-95 on Sunday — at home — by the lowly New York Knicks, who had lost 10 straight games to the Cavs.
We are talking about a defenseless group that lost 114-93 — at home, again — to the Orlando Magic, which had dropped 17 in a row to Cleveland.
We are talking about a team that stunk in Brooklyn for most of the night, that barely competed in New Orleans and that struggled to beat the rebuilding, injured and depleted Chicago Bulls.
Here’s a few numbers to ponder:
Through Sunday, the Cavs ranked 29th in the NBA — remember, there are only 30 teams — in 3-point percentage allowed (.402). They were 28th in defensive efficiency, 25th in points allowed (110.1) and 24th in field goal percentage allowed (.462).
As bad as those numbers are — and they are really bad — it’s even worse when you watch it with your own eyes.
James makes a turnover and walks up the floor.
Kevin Love, Jae Crowder, Wade, Rose and everyone else repeatedly fail to close out on 3-point shooters.
J.R. Smith flies by a 3-point shooter, fails to box out and a long rebound bounces — bounces — right back to that shooter — see New York’s Tim Hardaway Jr. on Sunday — for a wide-open attempt that swishes through the net.
And that’s about the only time that has happened for J.R. Swish this season. The guy is shooting .259 from the field (.259) and an unfathomable .171 on 3-pointers (6-for-35). But, hey, at least he held Hardaway to 34 points.
Now here’s a truly scary Halloween thought for you: As bad as Smith was against the Knicks, Tristan Thompson was considerably worse.
We are talking about a long-armed, 6-foot-10 center who played 19:21 vs. New York and finished with exactly one point, no rebounds and no assists. It should be physically impossible to put up those non-numbers when you’re on the court for almost 20 minutes in an NBA game.
Those are just two individual examples, however, of what has been a team-wide struggle.
On almost a nightly basis, the Cavs have come out and simply gone through the motions. Younger, hungrier opponents continually play harder, smarter and with more passion. That these opponents have often been vastly inferior from a talent standpoint — allegedly — makes Cleveland’s current malaise even harder to accept.
Time and again, opposing teams get a rebound or force a turnover and race down the floor for a dunk or wide-open three. Often, one or two Cavs players don’t even make it across midcourt.
After his troops do this two or three straight times, coach Tyronn Lue calls timeout. A handful of minutes or a quarter or a half later, the whole process repeats itself.
Every night, the Cavs trail after the first quarter. Often, it’s by a significant margin, as they’ve been outscored by a whopping 54 points in the first period of their last five games.
Every night, the Cavs talk about the importance of defense, the importance of sustaining — that seems to be one of their new favorite words — and then come out the next game and do the exact same thing all over again.
The Cavs are extremely talented on paper — they’re also the oldest team in the league and they’ve often looked it — but the results won’t change until the approach does.
The cure is really pretty simple: Play hard and play smart. Play defense as hard as you play offense. Care about the result, even if the regular season doesn’t mean a ton in the big picture. Develop good habits. Perfect those good habits. Become a team. Play like a team.
And do all that from the beginning of the game until the end of the game.
It’s really not too much to ask, is it?
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