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Cleveland Cavaliers' defense under scrutiny after win over Orlando Magic

Cleveland allowed Orlando to score 127 points on Saturday night

From NBA media reports

Jan 7, 2018 10:39 AM ET

Question marks remain on defense for LeBron James and the Cavaliers.

* Recap: Cavaliers 131, Magic 127

Confidence in Cleveland remains high that Isaiah Thomas will do exactly what is expected of one of the league's elite scorers, and that's give the Cavaliers a dynamic punch now that he's healthy and in the starting lineup. You don't add a talent like that to a lineup that already has LeBron James, Kevin Love and Dwyane Wade and not get an offensive boost.

Where the concern remains for the Cavaliers is on defense, where their struggles have been well documented this season. The Cavaliers simply are not playing championship-level defense and there are no signs the addition of Thomas or anyone else will change that right now, as Chris Fedor of pointed out after the Cavaliers' win in Orlando Saturday night:

The Cavs currently rank 28th in defensive efficiency, allowing 108.5 points per 100 possessions. Only Phoenix and Sacramento have been worse this season.

Among some other championship contenders, the Cavs simply don't stack up. The Warriors rank third in defensive rating. Boston -- able to switch seamlessly and overwhelm opponents with size, length and athleticism on the perimeter -- still tops the NBA despite a grueling schedule. San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Toronto are also among the league's best.

Historically, teams outside the top 10 don't win the NBA title. The last team to do it? The Los Angeles Lakers, nearly two decades ago.

Orlando, which entered the night with the fifth-worst offense, scored 127 points on 50 percent from the field and 37.8 percent from beyond the arc.

"They junked the game up, they went small with Aaron (Gordon) at the 5," Lue told reporters following the game. "That's a tough cover for any 5. They did a good job of just making an adjustment and it kind of hurt our second unit a little bit. We didn't expect it. But it was a good win for us."

Ball handlers continuously got the edge at the point of attack, forcing the defense to over-help. Orlando was able to race out in transition, recording 25 fast break points. The Magic also scored in the paint with relative ease, taking advantage of the lack of rim protection, piling up 66 points on 33-of-53 shooting inside. On the season, the Cavs' defense ranks 25th in points in the paint allowed. 

* * *

LeBron James helps power Cleveland past Orlando on Saturday night.


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