“I have no idea.”
As far back as the All-Star break, I’ve been asked how I think the Cleveland Cavaliers will do come playoff time. The above quote is all I can muster in terms of an answer. I couldn’t begin to give you a conclusive prediction on their chances, and haven’t come across even the slightest semblance of one at any point during this past regular season.
You could say this is a result of watching one of the most bizarre and uneven 82-game stretches I’ve ever seen from this team. Either way, as we near the start of the playoffs, it’s safe to say determining how far Cleveland can go is more difficult now than ever before.
Pick any given night from this sideshow of a regular season and you’ll find a completely different fan reaction when asking about the Cavs’ title hopes. After getting annihilated by the Houston Rockets in early February, the consensus belief saw Cleveland as a lost cause potentially incapable of making it out of the first round. Literally eight days later, when the Cavs wrecked the Boston Celtics after making a ton of trades, people started planning Finals watch parties.
When late-season injuries started hampering Cleveland’s on-court performance, hesitation crept back into supporters’ mindsets, only to disappear a few weeks later after an impressive comeback victory over the Eastern Conference-leading Toronto Raptors.
This essentially sums up the Cavs’ season. At times, they look like world-beaters. Other nights, they look like they’re only capable of beating themselves. Every time issues appear to be solved, other hurdles crop back up.
It all makes trying to figure out how far Cleveland can go this postseason incredibly difficult. When it comes to this team, there are so many questions to navigate through before coming up with a clear prediction.
For one, the Cavs’ defense has been an atrocity all season long, so much so that most of their victories came not because of defensive efforts, but despite them. While the offensive firepower of LeBron James and Kevin Love can help overcome problems on the other side of the court, eventually this team is going to have to stop giving opponents free points on practically every possession.
Outside of the liability that is Cleveland’s defense, some fans feel as though coach Tyronn Lue is the team’s biggest playoff concern.
There’s no ignoring the fact the Cavs played some of their best basketball while Lue was taking a break to alleviate health concerns. Upon his return, a few of Cleveland’s bad habits started creeping back up. That this occurred right before the postseason did little to ease the nerves of those worried about how Lue impacts the team’s performance.
Also making things murky is the fact two of the Cavs’ new additions – Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. – have a combined zero minutes of postseason experience. In order for Cleveland to go deep into the playoffs, it’s going to need consistent contributions from these two. If the stage becomes too big for them, the rest of the roster is going to have to carry the load.
To be honest, the team’s chemistry in general also makes it difficult to gauge how far it can go.
It feels as though you can count on one hand the amount of times the Cavs have played with a full roster. Injuries have been a consistent presence throughout the entire season, making it difficult for players to develop on-court rapport. It’s also made life harder on Lue when it comes to finding a productive rotation, as it’s clear he still can’t seem to land on a consistent game-plan yet.
To sum it up – Cleveland enters the postseason painfully ineffective at defense, with a questionable coach, key players with no playoff experience and a general lack of chemistry. Despite what appears to be a smoother road to the Finals than what was initially anticipated, the Cavs are draped in question marks, any of which could derail their playoff hopes.
Obviously, we’ll have a better idea of what lies ahead for this team when its first-round matchup with the Indiana Pacers kicks off this Sunday. Until then, trying to determine how far Cleveland can go is nothing but a shot in the dark.