I’m not sure if there is such a thing as dog days of spring or not, but if there is, you could arguably say the Cleveland Cavaliers (17-29, 10th in the East) are there.
The excitement of trade deadline has passed, the thought of the Cavaliers making the playoffs has long passed, injuries to Anderson Varejao and Daniel Gibson, along with the trade of Ramon Sessions has left the team shorthanded in terms of reliable players, and with 5 weeks left in the season, the team isn’t playing for much other than pride, development, and draft position.
That may be the reality of where we are in this shortened season, but it doesn’t mean there isn’t still plenty of reasons to watch. It happens much less frequently these days, but when this young team is clicking and playing at full potential, this is a fun team to watch. Perhaps a mild glimpse of what things will look like in the future as guys like Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, and Alonzo Gee continue to get better while new impact draft players are brought in.
However, we’re not seeing many glimpses of that team these days. We started the month of March talking about how the scheduled had the team playing a lot of teams in the middle of the standings. These were the 50/50 games that were going to define this team and this team. It was the difference between playoffs and lottery.
Needless to say, March has not gone well for the Cavaliers. The team has lost 3 in a row, 6 of 7 overall, and are 4-11 since the All-Star break. I think the most disappointing thing during this stretch has been the Cavaliers’ defense, seeing as how they have given up 100+ points in 6 of their last 8 games. In those 15 games since the break, their opponents have had 23 or more assists in 12 of them. The Cavaliers are just not doing a good job of communicating on defense and being in the right position to cut guys off. If the Cavaliers are going to turn things around and finish the season on a strong note, they are simply going to have to get better on that end of the court.
Their opponent in Tuesday’s game, the Philadelphia 76ers (27-22, 4th in the East), are going through their own struggles. The Sixers were one of the surprising teams of the first half of the season. They never lost back to back games through the first 25 games of the season. In the 24 games since then, they’ve had losing streaks of 2+ games a total of four times, going 9-15. They’ve lost 5 of their last 7 and are trying to right their ship.
As usual, the PG matchup is the first thing most will want to watch in this game. Kyrie Irving is going to have his hands full defensively with Jrue Holiday, who torched the Irving-less Cavs for 20 points in their last matchup. Irving must strive to do better than Sessions and Gibson did on Holiday in that game.
Another tough matchup will be at center where Cavs’ out-of-place-and-undersized center Tristan Thompson must go up against the much bigger Spencer Hawes. The Sixers didn’t have Hawes in that last matchup, but Hawes is once again having a solid, dependable season. Hawes is something of a meat and potatoes center. He’s not flashy, but he’s effective. He’s having probably the best season of his young career.
But Tristan can have some success on offense against Hawes. Tristan just needs to use his strength and athleticism, two things Hawes rarely shows on defense, to make Hawes play outside his comfort zone. I’m really going to watch how these two guys defend each other at both ends because they are such different players. Hawes prefers to play slightly further away from the basket while Thompson tries to work everything as close to the rim as he can.
Overall, this is a bad matchup for the Cavaliers. The Sixers have too much depth, size, and rebounding for the shorthanded Cavaliers, and Holiday and Lou Williams are just too much in the backcourt. If Andre Iguodala is out, it will help the Cavaliers’ cause, but in general the Cavaliers will have to play one of their best defensive games of the year to improve their odds of knocking off the Sixers.