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We’ve seen this before, early season struggles for the Cavs. But are these the same Cavs? Or are these early struggles something Cavs fans should be frightened by?
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David Aldridge: Call me in April. Seen this movie too many times to be moved by Cleveland’s defensive indifference in October. The age of this year’s top Cavs, combined with the shorter preseason, does lead one to believe that they’re not in great shape yet, and players that use the season to try and improve their conditioning tend to be susceptible to injury. So we need to keep an eye on that. But the only long-term significant question for Cleveland is what Isaiah Thomas shows up on the floor when he returns from his hip injury. If it’s Boston Isaiah — an elite scorer with devastating fourth-quarter closeout ability — the Cavs will be fine. That Isaiah is the perfect complement to LeBron and Kevin Love, and will make Cleveland impossible to stop in a seven-game series. But the limited Isaiah of the Eastern Conference finals last spring would be nothing but a target for whoever the Cavs play in June.
Steve Aschburner: More concerned about than frightened by, I think. I was counting on all the new faces in Cleveland to grab the Cavaliers’ attention this season in a way last year’s returning crew never fully engaged with its first 82. Between adapting and adjusting to Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade and Jae Crowder, then shifting gears again when Isaiah Thomas returns, I thought that — and an alleged MVP push by Kyrie-inspired LeBron James — would carry the Cavs through these six months. They remain my pick to reach The Finals but this lackluster start only emboldens challengers, from near-contenders in Boston, Washington and Toronto to early-round upstarts like Milwaukee or, given history and matchups, even Detroit. Golden State can get away with this in a way Cleveland cannot.
Shaun Powell: This start seems bizarre, and the wipeouts suffered by the likes of the Brooklyn Nets downright unreal. Usually the Cavs wait until March to become bored; maybe they’re just getting it out of the way early this year. Of course, I tend to ignore pretty much anything weird that happens before Thanksgiving. Besides missing Isaiah Thomas, the Cavs don’t feel the need to finish with the best record in the East — or the top two, for that matter. They need to stay healthy. If LeBron was hurt, then I’d be frightened for Cavs fans.
John Schuhmann: Last season taught us that the regular-season Cavs and the playoff Cavs are two very different teams. But this season’s Cavs are different too, and while defensive malaise is to be expected, there’s reason to be concerned about the offense. They’ve added three guys — Jeff Green, Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade — who have shot a combined 28 percent from 3-point range over the last three-plus seasons. That’s not the best way to complement LeBron James. Floor spacing and 3-point shooting have been the Cavs’ bread and butter over the last three seasons and both have been compromised with the changes they’ve made. So far (small sample size alert), the Cavs have been better offensively with none of those guys on the floor (108 points scored per 100 possessions) than they’ve been with one (105) or two (100). They have time to figure out a new way to succeed offensively, but it’s certainly not a sure thing that they’ll be as good as they were last season.
Sekou Smith: When the Cavaliers were younger, from top to bottom, their temporary struggles didn’t bother me as much. You knew there was method to whatever madness a LeBron James-led team was going through and that he would get them through it. LeBron is still doing LeBron-like things … but he’s working with a much older crew than normal. So there could be cause for concern, and Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue has said as much. I don’t frighten as easily, though, so I’m in no rush to push the panic button on the Cavaliers. If they don’t have these issue solved by Thanksgiving, then I’ll be ready to take another look. Yes, the core of this team has played to the final game in each of the past three seasons — so there has to be some mental, physical and emotional wear-and-tear involved. That’s no excuse. It’s just a reality for any team trying to climb the mountain to The Finals for a fourth straight season.
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