Blogtable: Cleveland Cavaliers a bad defensive team or just playing bad 'D'?
Each week, we ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day.
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Are the Cavs a poor defensive team, or just a team playing poorly on defense right now?
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David Aldridge: A little from column A, a little from column B. They have the capacity to play better, of course — it’s just about the same team that was so devastating on the back nine of The Finals last year. But they haven’t been good for weeks now. This is a pretty large sample size. It can’t just all be that they’re bored or that the injuries have hurt their continuity. There are precious few deflections — Cleveland is last in the league in steals — and the Cavs are 27th in blocked shots, 25th in points off turnovers. That means there aren’t a lot of runouts and chances for LeBron or Kyrie to find trailers or 3-pointers in transition. They show signs of energy here and there, but nothing is sustained. I know they’ll be better on D when they have one opponent to lock in on, but you have to really bring it to stop Boston and Washington and Toronto (with Lowry) offensively. I don’t see that team in Cleveland right now.
Steve Aschburner: The Cavs are playing poorly on defense this season. In so many of the categories they’re currently stinking up — 23rd in defensive rating, 26th in defensive rebound percentage, 25th in second-chance points allowed, 21st in fast-break points allowed — they ranked 10th, fifth, third and sixth last season. Since coach Tyronn Lue’s rotation hasn’t changed that much — and the Cavs managed well enough despite Kyrie Irving’s and Kevin Love’s limited individual defense — this looks more like an issue of fatigue, effort and focus. Out of such things, though, bad habits are born, so flipping the switch back to championship caliber might not be easy.
Fran Blinebury: It’s late in the season and the blogmaster is going metaphysical? Let’s just avoid twisting ourselves into philosophical pretzel knots and say the Cavaliers are a team that needs a good kick in the back end right now.
Scott Howard-Cooper: This late in the season, you are what the numbers say you are. Pick “below average” or “lacking” or “poor,” either way, the Cavaliers are not where they need to be on defense. It’s obviously a problem. A problem that can be overcome because that group knows as well as anyone what is required to win in the playoffs, but definitely an area in need of improvement.
Shaun Powell: They’re playing poorly defensively; however they’re average at best on D. Yes, it’s weird to say this when the biggest play in franchise history was a vicious swat in a Game 7 of The Finals. Yet, aside from LeBron James, nobody is stellar. Tristan Thompson isn’t a deluxe shot-blocker. JR Smith and Iman Shumpert are older and mostly living on reputation these days. And let’s not mention Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving.
John Schuhmann: Time will tell. The Cavs are a team that doesn’t have to defend well every night to win games, and maybe that’s the problem (though it’s not a problem for the Warriors). We’ve seen defending champs flip the switch come playoff time in the past and LeBron James by himself can turn a bad defensive team into a good one by cranking it up a notch. But this team doesn’t have the personnel around him to be nearly as good defensively as Golden State or San Antonio. (The absence of Matthew Dellavedova is a factor in their defensive regression.) Last season, the only above-average offense the Cavs faced on their way to The Finals was that of the Raptors, who had already taken a big step backward in the first two rounds. This season, the champs could face two top-10 offenses (Boston, Toronto and Washington all rank in the top nine) on their way to The Finals. It should be a tougher road and, right now, they don’t look ready for it.
Sekou Smith: Fundamentally, these Cavaliers are not a stout defensive bunch. While transforming themselves into a 3-point shooting outfit over the past 10 months or so, the Cavaliers have sacrificed some of the defensive-minded players they worked with during the first season of LeBron’s return to the franchise. I understand why they changed. They had to in order to compete with the Golden State Warriors and other Western Conference teams that were built in a similar fashion. They wanted more firepower and they’ve certainly added that. They haven’t gone in search of more defensive personnel. The issues dragging the Cavaliers down right now are all about the framework of the team and not just the energy and effort, or lack thereof, on the defensive side.
Ian Thomsen: They shouldn’t be this bad defensively — not with LeBron, Iman Shumpert, Tristan Thompson and all of the institutional memories of the last two postseasons. What appears to be ailing them more than anything is exhaustion. LeBron has been to six straight Finals and currently ranks No. 2 in the NBA in minutes (37.5), so it’s understandable if he is having trouble gearing himself up defensively throughout another long regular season. The problem is that his teammates haven’t been picking up for him — maybe because they are tired by their pursuit of a third straight Finals? The potential for exhaustion is the one reason Cleveland may be vulnerable in the East this spring.
Lang Whitaker: Why not both? They made the Spurs look downright sprightly earlier this week, and have been pretty bad on defense for a while now (29th in defensive rating since All-Star). Clearly something isn’t working, and I don’t how it’s fixable. For a quick answer, perhaps look for more on the offensive end? Maybe the ol’ “the best defense is a good offense” dictum applies here?
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