The Cleveland Cavaliers endured their 5 game road trip and came back with a 3-2 record. It seemed like a real positive….a sign that perhaps this team was finally starting to figure things out and turn their season around.
Coming back home for a 5 game home stand against 5 very beatable teams, this was supposed to be the time the Cavaliers took control of their season and got themselves back into serious playoff contention.
That was the theory, but none of it was true. The Cavaliers once again showed their true colors in the first two games of this home stand. It’s time to face reality. This is a bad basketball team. Poorly constructed, poorly coached, and consistently giving poor effort. The stark contrast between the Cavs and the Bulls is palpable. The Bulls, who lost Derrick Rose to injury, just traded the heart and soul of their team to Cleveland, and were without Carlos Boozer and Kirk Hinrich…all they’ve done is continue to play tough defense, give great effort, and have won 6 of 8 since trading Deng and 12 of their last 16 overall. That’s what a basketball team with heart and determination does.
The Cavaliers have a serious chemistry and culture problem. This should be obvious for anyone to see. This season has been an absolute nightmare, and we’re still in January. That should be good news. Still plenty of time to turn things around, playoffs still aren’t out of reach in the terrible Eastern Conference, still a chance to regroup after All-Star weekend, and whatever other fake platitudes of false belief we choose to bestow upon ourselves. But really, history just keeps repeating itself with this team.
Acquiring Luol Deng has made this team better, but not good enough. His leadership and winning culture haven’t been enough to overcome the losing stink of this franchise. This is a bad basketball team. Not enough talent, the coaching has been subpar, the offense is laughable, and the defense continues to let opposing players put up season and career highs at will. Not much is working right now, and I don’t know what the answer is. I’m not sure where this team will go from here.
They’ll probably win their next 3 games and we’ll all get excited again and forget the lows of games like this and the Kings loss last week. And just when we start to believe again, they’ll let us all down with a string of lackluster performances. That’s the pattern with this team, and after 42 games, it’s more routine than glitch.
So lets look at some numbers…
27 – 27 points for DJ Augustin, a season high. To be fair, Augustin has been great lately. He’s scored 16 or more in 5 straight games and been in double digits in 8 of his last 10. He has seen his career be completely rejuvenated since landing in Chicago in December after the Raptors let him go. In this game he was 8 of 14 from the field and 5 of 8 from three point range. When the Cavs went under the screen, he stepped back and nailed the jumper. When they stayed up on him, he drove past them. He was incredible in this game, and the Cavaliers defense just had no answer for him.
-12 – Kyrie Irving had 26 points to lead the Cavaliers, and he was -12 in +/- for this game. Opposing PGs continue to have huge games against the Cavaliers. Some of it is the defensive system (Mike Brown teams have always struggled with opposing PGs) and some of it is bad defense by Kyrie. Kyrie’s effort on defense has been much better this season. It’s why Mike Brown hasn’t been critical of his defense. But his defense has been bad. Really bad. Right now he is just not a good defender at the NBA level, and opposing teams have been more than happy to exploit it.
3 with 22+ – It’s not just Kyrie, though. The Bulls had three players with 22+ points. Mike Dunleavy had 22, Taj Gibson had 26, and Augustin had 27. That’s a lot of bad defense by a lot of different players. Mike Brown came in to change the defensive culture, and I warned in the preseason that it will take time for the defense to improve. It’s been slightly better overall on the season, but there are still stretches of the game where the defense just absolutely collapses and allows the opponents to blow the game open. Speaking of which…
64.7% – The Bulls shot 11-17 in the 3rd quarter (64.7%) and used the post-halftime stretch to take control of the game. Some of it was insane shooting by guys like Taj Gibson, but the Cavaliers defense wasn’t adjusting to what Chicago was doing and the Bulls were getting whatever shot they wanted. In the 4th quarter, when it looked like the Cavaliers were getting back into the game, the defense shutdown again. The Bulls shot 64.3% in the 4th quarter (9 of 14). The Cavaliers outscored the Bulls in the paint (34-30), had 19 2nd chance points compared to the Bulls’ 6, and 13 fastbreak points to 12 for the Bulls. The rebounding edge for Chicago was slight at 43-41. So how did the Bulls win? The Cavaliers couldn’t get stops when they needed them, that’s how.
5-6 (but really 5-5) – Kyrie Irving hit 5 of 6 three pointers in the 2nd quarter, and his only miss was when he caught a defender in the air off a pump fake and tried (unsuccessfully) to draw a foul. Kyrie’s 15 points in the 2nd quarter sparked some life into the team as they took the lead going into halftime, but one of the problems with the Cavaliers is that they need Kyrie to be Superman just to have a chance. It seems like the only times the team is competitive is when Kyrie is going off. We’ve gone through this before with LeBron James and we know how it ends. The Cavaliers desperately need players other than Kyrie to shoulder the scoring load.
It’s easy to get down after watching these last two games. It’s important to remember that this is just one game and that in the NBA, things aren’t as bad as they seem in the low points or as good as they seem in the high points. The game of basketball is a game of runs, and that applies to W-L record as well.
But having said that, ignoring the problems isn’t going to help either. I don’t know what it’s going to take for this team to give more consistent performances, but they need to figure something out pretty soon. The Cavaliers will try to figure something out Friday at home against the Milwaukee Bucks.