The Cleveland Cavaliers‘ difficult season continued last night as the team fell to the Houston Rockets on the road. While the Rockets are a solid team, playing at home and coming off a few nights off, a loss is a loss for a Cavaliers team that is now 4 games out of a playoff spot but only 3.5 games out of having the 2nd worst record in the entire league. To the naked eye the game last night was a difference in athleticism. The Rockets have it in bunches while the Cavaliers are missing it in much of their positions.
The Rockets starting lineup claim 4 dynamic athletes, with Terrance Jones being a more controlled skilled player. Dwight Howard is known for his strength and quickness for his size. James Harden has an elite first step quickness. Chandler Parsons leaping ability is unquestioned. Patrick Beverly’s foot speed allows him to be a terror on defense, just ask Kyrie Irving.
For the Cavaliers, even if Anderson Varejao wasn’t hurt, there starting lineup has no above average athletes. Irving’s skill with the ball is elite but he is not fast or quick in foot speed, it is his ball skills that allows him to get into the lane. Jarrett Jack, or CJ Miles, are fine athletes but do not have a trait that is near elite. Luol Deng is a solid all around player who understands leverage, angles and cutting. Tristan Thompson’s highest skill has been his motor and finding the right spot for rebounds but not due to any elite physical talent. Varejao is similar, with higher level feet, and Tyler Zeller’s best skill is his shooting but was manhandled by Howard.
A few stats back up the Cavaliers’ lack of athleticism. The Rockets had 29 fast break points to the Cavs 10 with their ability to get out and run and the Cavs lack of ability to stay up. Watching the teams change sides of the court showed the Rockets making space between them and the Cav defenders regularly. It looked like a 100 meter dash where one school is much better at all levels. The Rockets also had 7 blocks to the Cavs 4, with 2 of those blocks coming from highly athletic but not skilled Henry Sims. The Rockets also out rebounded the Cavs 44 to 32.
What this means for the Cavaliers team is that they have no one who can athletically take over a game on either side of the ball. While talent and skill is obvious in Irving, Deng and Varejao only the physical talent of Dion Waiters seems to change the direction of the game. Waiters gets to the rim, creates space and breaks down a defense on pure athletic skill. No one on defense is able to make huge game changing plans either with a block or great athletic move for a steal. Instead the team needs to play within a system, buckle down with hard effort every play and trust each other, none of which they seem willing to do.
As the Cavs look to make moves finding athleticism should be a huge priority. Skilled players are nice, and needed, but players who can get up and down the court, who can make spectacular plays and can change the course of the game are needed. Its one of the reasons this writer hoped the Cavaliers would draft Nerlens Noel, who can jump out of the gym.
What stuck out to you when you watched the game last night? Do you see the lack of athleticism as well? What is the answer for this team? Is there a player or two who can make a big difference? Who should the Cavs try to acquire?