“We’re running around here worrying about getting the Brooklyn pick. They might want our pick.”
This zinger was provided by Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue after he watched his team get scorched by a better-than-last-year-but-still-not-that-good Brooklyn Nets team. He was referring to the coveted 2018 Brooklyn first round pick Cleveland acquired in the Kyrie Irving trade, an asset which certainly loses its appeal if the Nets keep winning.
They did last night, thanks to the Cavs showing off some nasty habits which should look familiar to anyone who’s followed them for the past couple seasons. Once again, Cleveland showed off an incredibly lazy effort defensively. And, once again, it was because the team just doesn’t look like it cares too much about the regular season.
On paper, the Cavs’ past three games looked like a perfect setup for them to gather some momentum early in the 2017 campaign. Matchups against the Orlando Magic, Chicago Bulls and Brooklyn all seemed like great opportunities for Cleveland to get its new faces acclimated without breaking a sweat.
The end result? Two losses and one win which was far closer than it should’ve been. The Cavs’ nail-biter victory against a rebuilding Bulls team was sandwiched between a blowout loss to Orlando and last night’s defeat to the Nets which only looks close because they waited until the fourth quarter to actually show effort.
In each of the aforementioned games, Cleveland allowed 17 threes from its opponent. The team has also been scorched by the following players – Jonathan Simmons (Orlando, 19 points), Justin Holiday (Chicago, 25 points) and Spencer Dinwiddie (Brooklyn, 22 points). As you can see, the Cavs aren’t exactly getting worked over by future All-Stars.
Lue is already getting tired of his team’s defensive efforts, hinting changes may be coming if Cleveland doesn’t start showing more hustle closing on three point shooters. It’s a bit jarring to hear this just five games into the regular season. At the same time, what else would you expect from a man who’s spent the past three games either watching opponents hoist uncontested shots or seeing his players foul on a three-point attempt due to closing too late.
Personally, I’m not sure what’s more concerning – Cleveland’s defensive laziness or the fact we’ve seen it before. Just as it was last year, it seems as though the lack of effort comes directly from a lack of caring about the regular season.
Once again, the team as a whole is coming off completely indifferent in contests against inferior opponents. Whenever the Cavs play a team seen league-wide as a bottom feeder, they arrive to the court already mentally checked out. As a result, their opponent takes advantage, running up the score and forcing Cleveland to wake up from its sleepwalking midway through the game. Unsurprisingly, said strategy has a pretty low success rate.
Of course, there are two obvious caveats when it comes to griping about the Cavs’ disinterest in the regular season.
For one, they aren’t at full strength. Derrick Rose has been out since last Friday with a sprained ankle. Dwyane Wade was unavailable last night, and will likely be given rest days like this throughout the year. Additionally, Isaiah Thomas is still rehabbing from a torn labrum and won’t be available ‘til January. As a result, Lue has had to juggle rotations for the past few games.
Secondly, it has to be said these bad habits didn’t bite the Cavs last year. Despite a handful of head-scratching losses to lottery teams throughout the 2016-17 season, Cleveland still found another gear and coasted its way to the Finals. So, as frustrating as it is to watch now, we have proof the team should eventually be fine once the games start mattering.
This doesn’t make watching Cleveland play this carelessly any less annoying, though. There’s no joy in seeing the Cavs get spanked by bad teams due mostly to the fact they can’t be bothered to care.
The hope is they’re just shaking out the cobwebs and working through early roster issues. Cleveland will eventually develop a rhythm, ideally soon.
Until then, we can continue hoping to see the Cavs take the court at the very least looking like they care.