Chin up, Cavs fans. As the Cavaliers head into tonight’s game with the Denver Nuggets, the team is hoping to avoid their 19th straight loss and 29th of their last 30 games, I know many are feeling fatigued with the epic failures of the team this year.
But today is Friday, the weekend is upon us, and it’s time for us to take stock, have a little fun at other teams’ expense, and realize that things could always be worse. You know the stats for this year. You’re surely aware that the Cavaliers are attempting to become the lowest rated team in the NBA in both offensive and defensive efficiency; you know that their average margin of victory is twice as bad as anyone else’s; you know that this offense is 27th in points per game despite being 11th in the NBA in pace, meaning it takes them an inordinate number of possessions to score their pathetic 93.4 ppg. You know this hasn’t always been fun.
Yet, if we look back into NBA history, we see that there have always been teams worse at different aspects of the game than the Cavaliers are. As much as it might seem that there’s no way any team has ever been worse on offense or worse on defense than this Cavs team, I’ve gone back and compiled a list of some of the more dubious distinctions in recent NBA history that don’t involve Cleveland.
Lets start on defense. The Cavaliers defense has been a miserable disappointment. The 100 point benchmark for opponents points scored may be an arbitrary mark of interest, yet fans often associate this number as a measure of defensive quality. Give up 100+ points, bad defense. Giver up fewer than 100 points, good defense. Well, this year Cleveland has given up 100+ points to their opponents in 34 of their 45 games. Last year the Cavaliers gave up 100+ in just 25 games all season. Their streak of 12 consecutive games giving up 100+ points earlier this year is the top streak in the NBA this year.
Yet this is far from the NBA’s all time streak. Going back to the 1986-87 season (all of these numbers from here on out are from this same time period, as that’s as far back as www.basketball-reference.com lets us go), that distinction belongs to ambitious head coach Paul Westhead whose extreme high paced Denver Nuggets teams were not exactly known for playing too much defense. From April 19, 1990 to November 2, 1991 the Nuggets gave up 100+ points in 87 straight games. The 1990-91 Nuggets team averaged 113,7 possessions per game and gave up 130.8 points per game. Of course, those Nuggets also scored 119.9 points per game, but the team still faltered to a 20-62 record. The Nuggets also have the 2nd longest streak in NBA history at 73 games under Doug Moe from October 31, 1986 to March 31, 1987.
The Cavaliers’ current losing streak of 18 games hasn’t been fun, but they still have a bit of a buffer left before they reach the top of this list. That belongs to both the Vancouver Grizzlies who, in 1996, once lost 23 straight games and the 1997-98 Denver Nuggets who also dropped 23 straight. The Cavaliers’ current streak of 18 straight is tied with the 2007 Boston Celtics and, hey, we know what happened to the Celtics after their losing streak, so maybe the Cavaliers can get lucky, too, right?
The Cavaliers’ offense hasn’t fared much better. They are tied with the Milwaukee Bucks for worst FG% in the league (.423). Already the Cavaliers have had 4 games in which they have shot less than 35% from the field. Incredibly, that’s not even the most this season. The Bucks have had 5 already. Regardless, the Cavs are on pace for 7 games under 35% this year. That sounds incredibly bad, but the 2002-03 Miami Heat had more than twice that many. They hold the record (since 1986-87) for most games in a season under 35% shooting with 15 games that year. The Chicago Bulls are 2nd with 12 games in 2003-04 while they also have had 4 seasons with 8 games under 35%.
And how about the Cavaliers’ own inability to score 100+ points in a game. During the LeBron era, scoring 100 points was pretty much an automatic win. This year, not only is it not an automatic win, but it’s also extremely rare. The Cavaliers have failed to hit the Chalupa plateau in 37 games. That’s the most sub-100 point games in the NBA and has them on pace for 67 games below the century mark.
As bad as that sounds, it wouldn’t be the most since in any season since 1986-87. Nope, that record goes to the Chicago Bulls, who actually scored 100 or fewer points in 79 of their 82 games in 1999-00 (that’s some serious post-MJ fallout…here’s to hoping post-LBJ fallout isn’t so severe). For those struggling with the math, that means in an entire NBA season, the Bulls only scored more than 100 points three times.
In 2002-03, the Cavaliers scored 100 or less in 65 games. That level of offensive ineptitude lead them to LeBron James in that offseason. As the Cavaliers now head toward somewhere in the neighborhood of 67 games below 100, we can only pray the prize at the end of this rainbow is comparable.
This is just a small sample. We could spend all day digging through the records and the streaks and find teams who were worse at several things than the Cavaliers. And sure, maybe the Cavaliers are worse because they are bad at all of these things at the same time in the same season.
Yet there’s a bigger picture here. Look at some of these teams mentioned. The Chicago Bulls, the Boston Celtics, the Miami Heat. Heck, even the Denver Nuggets. Teams go through bad phases. The defeatist attitude that has been beaten into the psyche of us Cleveland sports fans is tough to get up from, but lets not lose sight of the reality. There will come a time where the Cavaliers will rise again. We will find new heroes who will make us forget about the overwhelming disappointment of heroes past.
Tonight, the Cavaliers take on the Denver Nuggets, a franchise historically known for their lack of success who are trying to hang on for dear life to Carmelo Anthony, the star who has helped elevate the entire franchise. Cleveland knows a thing or two about that. Perhaps playing the Nuggets at home will create the perfect storm of circumstance wherein the Cavaliers break this hideous streak and get the gorilla off their back. After all, things are due to improve at some point, aren’t they? Why not tonight?