April 17, 2014

The Cavaliers Continue to Grind Through Injuries

Is it better to play poorly and win or to play well and lose? The Cleveland Cavaliers (4-14, 13th in the East) have lost quite a few games I’m not sure they deserved to lose this season. The Cavaliers are going through something of an identity crisis at the moment. Or they are a pretty good bad team, or a pretty bad good team?

One of the games they most certainly deserved to lose was the 2nd game of the season against the Chicago Bulls. Tonight the Cavaliers will try to avenge that loss when they host the Bulls (8-8, 4th in the East) at The Q.

The Cavaliers will once again be sans-starting backcourt. PG Kyrie Irving is still out with the finger injury and Dion Waiters is expected to miss this game with an ankle injury. The Bulls know the feeling. They too are missing their starting backcourt as PG Derrick Rose and SG Richard Hamilton are both out as well.

So which backcourt-less team will win? The Bulls have owned the Cavaliers of late. In fact, the Bulls have taken 9 straight regular season games against the Cavaliers. The last time the Cavaliers beat the Bulls was March 19, 2010. The Cavaliers leading scorer that game was LeBron James. And that’s all I have to say about that.

I’m not sure I expect this game to be much different. Kyrie Irving has yet to beat the Bulls despite the fact he’s never played against Derrick Rose. And now the Cavaliers are without both Irving and Waiters. Then again, with this version of Anderson Varejao, anything is possible.

Indeed, the Varejao vs Joakim Noah matchup is always a fun one. If any player resembles Varejao not just physically, but in terms of intangibles, hustle, and effort, it’s Noah. You wonder why opposing fans hate Varejao? It’s for the same reason Cleveland fans hate Noah. That kind of nonstop effort gets under your skin, and both of these players are relentless.

The Bulls this season are boring. After going 2-3 on a recent road trip they have gone 2-2 since. They are 8-8 on the season. They are 22nd in defensive efficiency and 3rd in defensive efficiency. They are about as even, balanced, and boring as it gets. And I don’t even mean boring in a bad way. I mean it in a dependable, reliable way. With the Bulls, you know what you’re going to get. Smart offense, and incredible defensive effort.

It’s exactly the kind of team the Cavaliers struggle with. When the Cavaliers play a team they can at least somewhat match defensive intensity with, they can play their way into games. The Bulls are the most relentless team on defense. They swarm, they communicate, they help out, they do whatever it takes. It’s beautiful to watch when they’re not playing the Cavaliers.

The winner of this game might just come down to which substitute backcourt plays better. Or else it will come down to which team defends better down the stretch. If it’s the former, the Cavaliers have a chance in this game. If it’s the latter, this will be the 10th straight loss to the Bulls for the Cavaliers.

If the Cavaliers can force the Bulls to succumb to the pains of losing Rose and Hamilton, I really expect Alonzo Gee to be a big part of that. I know that Luol Deng is a matchup nightmare for Gee, but in my opinion Gee has shown a lot of composure and leadership in Kyrie’s absence. He has an offensive aggressiveness that the rest of the offense can sometimes be lacking, and they sometimes feed on it.

Otherwise, this has all the makings of a tough game for the Cavaliers. But is there value in playing well, playing hard, and ultimately coming up short against better teams? I think there is. I think the Cavaliers are learning a lot about themselves and their roles as they play through the injuries. It’s certainly been a better experience than getting blown out night in and night out as they frequently did in previous seasons.