Are the Cavs in Trouble?
As is the case with many defending champions, the Cleveland Cavaliers have seemed focus challenged this season. There have been multiple instances of the players downplaying the importance of the regular season, assuming they will be fine once the playoffs roll around. Some teams in the past seem to have been able to “flip the switch” once the playoffs come, but aren’t teams in a sense playing with fire if they assume they can do that? The Cavs are just 12-14 since the all-star break, and are likely to miss out on the top seed in the east as a result.
Since the all-star break, the Cavs have allowed 107.9 points per 100 possessions on defense. What does that mean? That puts them in the same territory defensively as the New York Knicks, one of the bottom feeders in the league. Not only are the Cavs struggling, but the other top teams in the league are coming into the playoffs playing pretty well. The #1 seed Celtics are 7-3 in their last 10 games, and the #3 seed Raptors are 8-2 in their last 10 games. The Cavs have downplayed the importance of the top seed in recent weeks, but they are just 20-21 on the road this season. If they need to go on the road for 4 games in a 7-game series, it could be a difference maker in making it through the east.
The Cavs problems don’t end with the east. If the Cavs happen to still be able to flip the switch and make it through the east, they will likely have a powerhouse team in the Warriors or Spurs in the finals. The Cavs are just 16-14 against the western conference this season as a whole, and have not won a single road game against the west all season. No, not even against the Lakers, Suns, Timberwolves, or Kings. The Cavs have been THAT bad against the west. If the Cavs can’t win a game on the road even against the bottom feeders in the west, how are they supposed to just walk through the east to the finals and repeat as champions? That’s a pretty serious switch that is going to need to be flipped.
While the Cavs have allegedly been coasting during the regular season, the numbers tell a different story. If the regular season doesn’t matter, and the Cavs aren’t really tring, then why is LeBron playing almost 38 minutes per game? Kyrie Irving playing 35 minutes per game? Shouldn’t those guys be a little more restricted in their minutes so they don’t burn themselves out? If Lebron and Kyrie are playing so many minutes, why are the Cavs still losing so many games?
Yes, the Cavs have had their fair share of injuries, most notably Kevin Love missing about 20 games, but they are still just 7-8 since he has returned from injury in March. Don’t even say JR Smith missing 40 games is the reason why this team has struggled so much. JR is a fine player, but championship teams aren’t made or broke by guys like JR Smith, not when 6 of the other 7 guys who play the most minutes on the team were all healthy for 70 or more games (the other one being Kevin Love).
The point is, the Cavs had had some injuries that have slowed them down, but didn’t the Warriors just play a month without Kevin Durant? He’s in a different stratosphere than both Love and JR, and the Warriors are still cruising to a 66-15 record and are the heavy championship favorites, despite resting their star players down the stretch. Weren’t the Raptors just playing without Kyle Lowry for a month? He’s probably their best player, but they are still 17-7 in their last 24 games and come into the playoffs with Lowry back and are serious contenders to take down Cleveland. Point being, there was other teams with more serious injuries who are still in much better shape right now entering the playoffs.
Despite all this, the Cavs are still the 2nd favorite team to win it all after the Warriors. This is because we assume they will be back once again, because some guy named LeBron James has made it to 6 straight NBA finals. LeBron and company may kick up the intensity in the playoffs, but if they have been THIS BAD over such an extended stretch, can they be good enough to win it all again? I’ll believe it when I see it.
What do you think? Are the Cavs in trouble or will they flip the switch en route to LeBron's 7th straight finals appearance? If they get back, are the capable of winning it all again? Comment and let us know! Stay tuned for more current sports stories. Don't forget to follow us on social media. You can find us on Facebook, Instagram @beyondthemetrics, and Twitter @byondthemetrics