Maddie Meyer / Getty Images Sport / Getty
The Cleveland Cavaliers aren’t good right now. After spending two nights off in Toronto (a.k.a. “White Vegas”), they came out listless Thursday against the Raptors, losing by 34 points. Then, on night two of their back-to-back Friday in Indianapolis, the Cavs blew a 22-point second-quarter lead before losing 97-95 to the Pacers.
Cleveland has dropped three straight and eight of 11, and was outscored 260-198 in losses to the Raptors and Minnesota Timberwolves. The culprits are the usual ones: lack of intensity, terrible defense, and poor shooting. The Cavs shot under 22 percent from deep in the Toronto and Indiana losses, but that only tells part of the story. LeBron James called his team “fragile” and head coach Tyronn Lue warned that players best not have “agendas.”
If there’s something unpleasant brewing inside the locker room, it’s still behind closed doors. James at least was in a decent enough mood after the Indy loss to tweet out his agreement with the game-sealing out-of-bounds call.
In truth, though, the Cavs’ midseason swoon isn’t much different from the roadblocks they’ve encountered every season since James returned in 2014.
|Season||Cavs’ record through 42 games||Low point|
|2017-18||26-16||Have lost 8 of 11 in Jan.|
|2016-17||30-12||Lost 6 of 8 in Jan.|
|2015-16||30-12||Fired David Blatt|
|2014-15||22-20||Lost 9 of 10 in Dec.|
One thing almost as consistent in Cleveland as the Browns losing, however, is the Cavs not playing defense in the regular season. Last year, they became the first bottom-10 defensive team to reach the NBA Finals since the 2001 Lakers. This season, they’re tied for second-last in defensive rating, giving up almost 110 points per 100 possessions. Isaiah Thomas‘ offensive struggles since his return only emphasize his defensive ineptitude.
Still, many of the Cavs’ problems come back to simple engagement.
Their ability to sort out their magnified issues over the last four years deserves more credit than it gets, but the usual heat lamp gets hotter with James’ impending free agency.
Have other East teams like the Raptors and Celtics really caught up with Cleveland? Are Lue’s shortcomings as a coach catching up with the team, or, does it even matter with James running the show? When David Blatt was fired on Jan. 22, 2016, the Cavs had just won three of four. A year earlier, Cleveland made a series of January moves that helped reboot the team, acquiring J.R. Smith and Timofey Mozgov. Is a deal on the horizon this season?
Time will tell. The second half awaits, and the Cavs’ track record there isn’t bad.