The Cavaliers aren’t strangers to opening night wins. Well, at least not in the post-LeBron era, anyway. Believe it or not the Cavaliers were 2-5 in openers with LeBron James on the roster, and are 3-1 in openers in the time since. Of course, some of that1 is due to the Cavaliers being scheduled in a lot of prime opening matchups against other good teams. But still, the post-LeBron Cavaliers have had a lot of success on opening nights.
Of course, those opening night wins haven’t turned out to be the best indicators of how the season was going to go. In 2010, the Cavaliers won what was one of the most memorable opening night games of our lives. It sounds shallow now, but in that moment, playing the first game without LeBron, the fans bonded and stood behind that team for that one night as the Cavaliers knocked off the Boston Celtics, the very team that put an end to the LeBron era. Unfortunately, the team lost their next 3 games en route to a 7-10 record through November.
Last year the Cavaliers beat the Washington Wizards on opening night 94-84. They would go on to lose 8 of their next 9 games, giving up more than 100 points in the next 8 games in setting the tone for what would turn out to be a miserable season of many letdowns and just atrocious defense. It’s hard to remember now, but the Cavaliers went 5-23 to start the season before winning back to back games for the first time.
So what does this season have in store for the Cavaliers? Can the Cavaliers reverse recent history and actually ride the momentum of an opening win into a hot start, or will they fall on old habits?
Tonight’s opponent, the Charlotte Bobcats, would appear to be the perfect team to keep the hot start going. But we all know looks can be deceiving. The Bobcats are 0-1, but their loss was a 96-83 game at Houston in which Dwight Howard made his Rockets debut. For being on the road and playing a very good team debuting the offseason’s biggest free agent signing, the Bobcats actually hung tough. The Bobcats had the lead after the first quarter and still only trailed by 6 points after three quarters.
The Bobcats feature a starting lineup of Kemba Walker, Gerald Henderson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Josh McRoberts, and newcomer Al Jefferson. Former Cavalier PG Ramon Sessions anchors Charlotte’s bench unit that also includes the likes of Ben Gordon, Bismack Biyombo, and first round draft pick Cody Zeller.
These two teams are somewhat familiar with each other, with the Bobcats beating the Cavaliers twice in the preseason. This regular season matchup will be a lot different, though, and the Cavaliers will try to make sure the outcome is different as well.
Al Jefferson can be an absolute load inside and Anderson Varejao will have hands full once again. Jefferson has only faced the Cavaliers 5 times in the last 3 years, but in those games he is averaging 20 points and 11.2 rebounds. The Cavaliers did a decent job defending Brook Lopez, but Lopez was still able to hurt them inside, and Jefferson will be much the same.
Josh McRoberts has the ability to stretch the floor and he will be looking to draw Tristan Thompson out to the perimeter leaving more room for Jefferson to operate inside. And Ramon Sessions is still a dangerous PG that will be a tough test for Kyrie Irving and Jarrett Jack on the defensive end of the floor.
Yet there are still plenty of things that bode well for the Cavaliers in this matchup. After finishing in the bottom 3 in virtually every defensive category last season, after 1 game this year the Cavaliers are 11th in points against, 3rd in opponent FG%, 7th in defensive eFG%, and 12th in defensive efficiency. I’m listing these stats not because they prove the Cavaliers are a good defensive team after 1 game (they most certainly do not do that), but because the Cavaliers have set a baseline standard of how well they are capable of defending.
I still don’t expect consistent defense. I think it takes time to develop great defensive habits. But so much of defense is a matter of effort, communication, and trust. With a game in Indianapolis against the Pacers Saturday night, this game tonight stands as a swing game. Not that they can’t beat the Pacers, but this game very well could be the difference between a 2-1 start and a 1-2 start. And with the Cavaliers recent history in the first couple months of the season, that 1 game swing could be a huge difference in the psyche of a growing and developing basketball team.
- and by some of that, I pretty much mean all of that [↩]