Sitting at 16-7 on the season, there are many ways you can come up with excuses for the Cleveland Cavaliers thus far this season. The big Shaq-uisition would definitely be up on that list, and as linked to in WWW this morning, Stepien Rules had a pretty solid list of other reasons with the schedule. Well what does that mean going forward? Not a whole lot, as the schedule becomes increasingly more difficult starting tonight with their road game at contending Oklahoma City.
In the first 23 games this season, representing just over a quarter of the entire schedule, the average winning percentage of a Cleveland opponent has been .463. Additionally, of their seven losses only two were against teams that currently have records above .500 (Boston and Houston). Those are disappointing signs when looking toward home court advantage for the Cavs in the playoffs this season. Now with the day-to-day importance of the season cranking up ever so slightly, the team needs to crunch down against some key opponents in order to make a push.
Only a quarter of the way through the season, and our beloved team sits in fourth place in the Eastern Conference. They are three games back of Boston, while Orlando and Atlanta are one game and one half game ahead of Cleveland, respectively. This was not the plan for GM Danny Ferry this season as the team clearly looks to be just behind all three of those teams thus far in the conference. Considering the relatively easy schedule so far, things have to get more difficult eventually and they certainly do later this month.
Here is a look at the details of the rest of the December schedule for the Cavaliers:
Sun, Dec 13 @ Oklahoma City (12-9)
Tue, Dec 15 vs. New Jersey (2-21)
Wed, Dec 16 @ Philadelphia (5-18)
Fri, Dec 18 vs. Milwaukee (11-11)
Sun, Dec 20 @ Dallas (17-7)
Mon, Dec 21 @ Phoenix (16-8)
Wed, Dec 23 @ Sacramento (10-12)
Fri, Dec 25 @ LA Lakers (18-4)
Sun, Dec 27 vs. Houston (13-9)
Tue, Dec 29 @ Atlanta (16-6)
Wed, Dec 30 vs. Atlanta (16-6)
The first four games look relatively calm, and combining those with the first 23 games it gives the Cavaliers a strength of schedule of .443. From that point on however, right after my finals finish up here at UD, it will be a rough holiday season for the Cavs. They face eight straight teams with 10 wins or more starting with Milwaukee, and all but Sacramento are currently projected to make the playoffs. The Lakers, Dallas and Atlanta all will host the Cavaliers and all three of those teams rank in the top six in the NBA right now.
While we can guess all the problems with this team currently, we are about to learn a lot more about the strength of this unit later this month. Will they be strong enough to not overlook teams like New Jersey and Philadelphia? Can they consistently dominate the mediocre teams like Sacramento and Milwaukee? How can they handle adversity on the road against the elite teams like Los Angeles, Dallas, Phoenix and Atlanta? Is this team good enough to compete for a title four months from now? These answers will become more apparent in just a few more weeks.