It’s important to preface any sort of critique on the Cleveland Cavaliers with some obvious caveats. One – it’s December, so we’re barely into the 2016-17 season. Two – they’re the defending NBA Champions.
Obviously, when you factor in those key points you can see there’s no reason to panic if the team hits a bump in the road.
With all of that said, you can’t help but be surprised by the fact the Cavs have more or less hit a pothole instead of a bump this week.
Two games, two blowout defeats. Cleveland traveled to Wisconsin Tuesday to get walloped by the Milwaukee Bucks 118-101. Needing a strong turnaround against the contending Los Angeles Clippers last night, things technically only got a little worse. By that, I mean the Cavs lost by 19 instead of 17.
Clearly, these are the kind of box scores you don’t expect to see from the reigning champs. Cleveland’s season is in no serious trouble despite back-to-back lopsided losses. Still, there are some bad habits the team has been showing lately, issues which should look very familiar to anyone who’s followed the Cavs the past few years.
One problem which hasn’t been limited to just this week is the lackadaisical defense. Cleveland is middle of the pack when it comes to an opponent’s average PPG. This is fine when the Cavs are consistently scoring on offense.
That said, the past two games are proof such a strategy has flaws when Cleveland’s shooting goes cold. This is something the team seems to run into every season, where the players just assume defense doesn’t need to be tightened up when you’re still outscoring your opponents. A cold dose of reality always pops up eventually, and this week is just more proof an attempt to offensively fix defensive problems always backfires.
Of course, it’s also tough to keep the points coming when the ball starts to stick, another red flag the Cavs have come across the past few seasons.
There’s always plenty of evidence proving Cleveland is at its best when the offense is consistently moving the ball. And yet, the team always seems to run into spurts where the assists drastically decline. Unsurprisingly, the points follow suit.
Just look at the stats from last night. The Cavs tallied six assists in the first quarter, which was unsurprisingly the most competitive frame of the night. They only logged six more for the rest of the night. As a result, LA was able to run away on the scoreboard.
Of course, no Cleveland season is complete without running into the trademark “I think they’re bored” portion of the year. This is yet another hurdle the Cavs appear to be approaching.
Eventually, knowing they’re labeled playoff favorites at all points of the regular season, they end up showing a lack of motivation on the court. I get it, sure. At the same time, said laziness always ends up biting Cleveland.
The Milwaukee contest, as well as the team’s surprisingly close bout with the Philadelphia 76ers last weekend could both be labeled as boredom games for the Cavs. The thought seemed to be, though, that a match-up with a top team like the Clippers would shake them out of the doldrums. Outside of the first quarter, that didn’t seem to be the case.
I feel like a broken record at this point, as all of these issues have been called out across the past three seasons. Obviously, they don’t have a major impact in the long run since Cleveland went to the Finals the past two years regardless of regular season funks.
I’m in no way getting too freaked out these problems popping up a little earlier than usual. Still, with the core of this team having played together for over two full seasons now, you’d think these issues would’ve been put behind them.
Here’s hoping the familiarity of these concerns means Cleveland can move past them much quicker this time around.