Home is Where the Hope Is: On the Cavs’ bizarre inability to win on the road

Kyrie Irving knees

The mighty Cleveland Cavaliers are one of just nine teams to be undefeated within the confines of their own home, toppling would-be contenders in the Brooklyn Nets and Minnesota Timberwolves in addition to the upstart Philadelphia 76ers. The woeful, scream-from-the-Twitter-mountaintops version of the Cleveland Cavaliers are one of just eight teams to have yet been dubbed victorious within the confines of an opponent’s abode, dropping contests to teams ranging from the undefeated Indiana Pacers all the way down to the somehow-still-in-the-league Charlotte Bobcats. The head-scratching, hope-emitting, angst-producing Cleveland Cavaliers are one of two teams (Chicago Bulls) to somehow belong to both groups.

There are countless ways to look at this bizarre Venn diagram, the angle and point of view largely derived by a formula which uses coffee and/or alcohol consumption, general outlook on life, and depth of Cleveland Sports Scorn as the independent variables. The fact that there have been twice as many road games means that there have been twice as many losses and twice as much angst. The Opening Night win over the Nets—complete with good feelings and turnaround talks—seems like it went down months ago. It can also be said, if we’re feeling extra pessimistic, that two of the team’s three wins easily could have gone the other way. The Cavs barely held on to beat the Timberwolves despite being up by 23 points midway through; the win over the Sixers took two overtimes and three game-winning attempts by one Kyrie Irving.

But in the same light, we can say that young teams tend to do well, or at least better, at home, the obvious correlation being in the energy, support and all-around good vibes that come from the less athletic “sixth man”; the echoing chants of “DE-FENSE”, the way the roof reverberates when a three-point shot splashes through the net, the palpable momentum shifts during fortuitous turnovers and offensive rebounds. One can also use simple math to their advantage, pointing out that in the 82 games within a regular season, there are equal amounts of games on the road as there are at home. Extrapolating the current trends, this team would, in theory, finish 41-41, right in line with many forecasts for the eventual success (or lack thereof) for this Cavaliers team. We can even bake in a little wiggle room, given the unlikelihood of sweeping at home, saying that they will, eventually, win a game or two on the road as well.

Frustrations are very understandable. The way that the Cavaliers got slapped around by the playoff-bound Timberwolves on Wednesday night provides plenty of reasons for pause—they allowed 70 points in the first half, were soundly abused in transition, and could not even execute in garbage time despite the ball essentially being teed up for them. Is it the coaching? Is it the front office? Is it the players and their relative efforts?

Potentially the most surprising aspect, as if a young team that has its sights set on the playoffs getting their doors blown off wasn’t enough, was the way Mike Brown handled the loss. While a rage-fueled, four-letter-filled rant would have caught no one by surprise, Brown took to his post-game press conference looking as if he were provided a sedative, citing words he was hearing from the mouths of his players as the debacle was unfolding before them.

“I saw some things that make me think that this team has some fight and some character,” said Brown. “I saw it tonight. I saw some stuff on the court, some stuff on the bench, listening to guys talk and how they feel. We like some of the things that were being said, things that were said on the bench, some of the things done on the bench by most of the guys.”

The players, naturally, were tight-lipped, keeping locker room talk in their locker room. For better or worse, Jarrett Jack, despite his game-worst -30 in terms of +/- and falling victim to a between-the-legs pass from Minnesota’s Ricky Rubio, was the undoubted leader, pulling teammates in during multiple instances throughout the game. It was Jack who was deployed during the team’s white flag moments, surrounded by Matthew Dellavedova, Sergey Karasev, Anthony Bennett and Henry Sims. It was Jarrett Jack who immediately took accountability for the dreadful loss.

“You try to put that in the rearview mirror as quick as possible and focus on the task we have coming up, which is Charlotte,” said Jack. “Not to excuse the performance that we put out on the court. I’m sure the coaches feel the same way. We weren’t at all satisfied. It’s something we have to put it all on our shoulders. It’s not like we weren’t prepared, we were prepared for this game, for this team. But this falls on the guys, myself included.”

The player who many have hopes and aspirations of becoming a leader, Kyrie Irving, once again led his team in scoring, but had more turnovers than assists, is shooting 38.6 percent from the floor, and was abused on the defensive end during multiple instances by both Rubio and the infamous JJ Barea. The pessimist will say that Irving is regressing at the age of 21; defenses have figured him out, and, while being extremely talented, he lacks the fire and motivation needed to be the foundation piece of a winning franchise. Those on the other side of the table will say that Irving is just 21 and is simply having a rough start to his third season in the NBA. A career 46 percent shooter, Irving didn’t just forget how to execute. He may need to “grow up,” but at least we have identified the problem. “Just getting used to the defensive pressure and different looks I’m getting thrown at me,” Irving said before Wednesday night’s loss. “It’s been a different start to my third season, but I’m OK with that.”

There are arguments to be made for or against every player on the Cavaliers roster. Anderson Varejao is the veteran lead-by-example type, but getting older. Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters have shown flashes of brilliance, but continue to be wildly inconsistent. Anthony Bennett is extremely talented and possesses a ton of power, but he missed a lay-up and a dunk on Wednesday night—on the same play.

For as bad as the Cavaliers have looked over the last two weeks of basketball, they’re in third place within their division and sit just two wins behind the Miami Heat. A win over the Bobcats this Friday, as Jack alluded to, would make the team 4-6—a record that not only sounds a lot better than 3-6, but one more indicative of a team that is expected to finish the season at the 40-win mark when it is all said and done.

Who knows what was said on that bench. Who knows what the players said to one another in the locker room. Who knows if Mike Brown was simply slipped some laughing gas prior to meeting with the media. What is undoubtedly true is that this current Cleveland Cavaliers team has not passed the eye test since the confetti fell on Opening Night. What remains to be seen is whether or not this team, complete with seven new players and a new head coach, can find a groove, fall firmly into it, and start piling up the wins.

If there’s any good news, it’s that the Cavs’ next contest is at home. Recent history is on their side.

(Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)

  • Kildawg

    The Cavs have to make a statement tomorrow night hosting Charlotte. A team win would go a long way to getting things figured out. If the Jeckyll-Hyde play keeps persisting, a more drastic move besides rotation alignment would be needed, like a trade (stopgap starting SF anyone?).

  • DontbringLBJback

    What’s so frustrating is the fact that if they had picked one of the three or four rookies that are doing really well (Ben McLemore was always my pick) that would have a huge impact moving forward. Bennett looks like a lost puppy. He doesn’t even know what to do. What the heck happened from pre-season to now???

  • mgbode

    yes, it’s frustrating to see some of the other rookies come on strong (Olynyk & Adams a couple others). but, we did draft Bennett for his upside and realized that he was going to take some effort in conditioning and play style.

    the most frustrating part to me is that he doesn’t have his outside shot along with the entire rest of the team not named CJ Miles. we really need another shooter and was really hoping Bennett could at least park it in the corner for some 3pters at first if nothing else.

    the clock is still ticking though.

  • hash

    I was at the game last night, and boy was I embarrassed. There was no ball movement, movement without the ball, no defense, and most importantly no coaching. The Wolves maybe playing well, but there were not doing anything spectacular last night.

    Bennet is killing the team, he gave up a lot of easy/uncontested buckets, missed plenty of rebound opportunities where he had position, seemed like he was always out of position, and missed easy open looks. Zeller looked awful too.

    It did not seem like they were interested in winning at all. There was zero effort from anyone except maybe Delladova.

  • Lunch

    Why do you assume that Ben McLemore would play well with the Cavs? Under Mike Brown’s system, Ben may also look like a lost puppy who doesn’t even know what to do. Besides, there has been a lot of info on the net that states that it takes big men longer to develop in the NBA.

  • Yup

    Their are no rookies “doing very well.” McLemore is avg like 8 points a game. Olidipo has less numbers than Dion did last year and while Adams has been good (loved him pre-draft) ya think that the fact that he plays for a contender might help him? Besides, even if he becomes the stud of the draft, who would’ve taken him first? No one. That’s who.

    When do and I the others like me who were saying that Noel was too much if an injury risk to take first get to crow? I pursue all the Cavs sites and there has been dead silence from the multitudes who told me and others that Dr. Andrews said Noel was ahead of schedule! Ha! Would you all have rather picked a guy number one who won’t play this year?

  • mgbode

    Adams may be helped by playing for a contender, but then what is the reason for Olynyk?

    I think it’s fair to have some frustration with Bennett’s play thus far. He’s been bad. He has plenty of time to rectify things, but he has not made a good first impression.

  • woofersus

    I actually thought Zeller looked pretty good, all things considered. He only played 14 minutes last night and had 8 points and 6 rebounds on 3-5 shooting, AND he didn’t commit a foul. He wasn’t usually able to stop Pekovic from scoring once he had the ball within 10 feet, but nobody else could either. I know most of those minutes came in garbage time at the end, but he also had to share the floor with Clark, who was flinging up bricks every time he touched the ball, so that’s like an extra defender for the wolves.

  • hash

    Peckovic was already in foul trouble by the time Zeller came in. He was manhandling everyone on the court. Most of Zels points must have come in garbage time and I wasn’t paying attention at that point. Yeah Clark was not playing well either.