Cleveland Cavaliers Aren’t NBA Finals Ready Quite Yet: And That’s OK

4 of 5

Nov 8, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) shoots a free throw in the fourth quarter against the Indiana Pacers at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Troubling Signs That Need to Stop

While I’m not concerned about the two-game losing streak right now, there are some trends that I hope the Cavaliers reverse before they become a bad habit. While it can get overlooked, the fact that all three of the Cavaliers losses have come in late-game or OT situations is concerning. Why is that? Probably because in most of the losses, besides the opening game against the Chicago Bulls, the Cavaliers held a commanding lead or held a lead in general going into the fourth quarter. So what could cause the Cavaliers to crumble in late game situations?  I discussed the execution part earlier, and that’s part of it, but the more concerning thing to me is the free-throw shooting and the defensive breakdowns.

Free-Throw Shooting

For the season, the Cavaliers are the 29th ranked team in the NBA for overall free throw percentage at 69 percent. That means that the team is barely making just under seven out ten free throws. Over the course of a game, most teams get to the free throw line 20-30 times. That means if the Cavaliers are missing 30% of their free throws, then they are possibly leaving 6-10 points a game at the line. Could the Cavaliers have used those 6-10 points in the losses to Chicago, Milwaukee, or Detroit? How about the narrow losses to teams like the Jazz where the team pulled out the victory late or it went to a final possession? The point is, if the Cavaliers want to win the close games, it’s going to take making free throws in critical situations. Now they’re not going to shoot 100% or even 90%, but the New York Knicks lead the NBA in free throw percentage at 83% as a team. Factor that into the Cavaliers losses and its a 4-6 point swing. Those losses could very well be wins.

I’d always hoped that the Cavaliers would bring Mark Price in as an assistant if only for his ability to teach free-throw shooting. For his career, Price helped teams like the Charlotte Hornets and Atlanta Hawks become more proficient in their team free throw percentage. I’d have liked to see him work with LeBron James on his form, and perhaps he could have helped others along the way. However, he’s not here, so the Cavaliers are going to have to make improvements on their own. Let’s hope before the season gets away from them, Coach Blatt puts emphasis on the team improving this aspect of their game even before Irving and Shumpert return from injury and the team puts it together for the stretch run.

Nov 15, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond (0) dunks the ball against Los Angeles Lakers forward Nick Young (0) during the third quarter at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive Lapses

It seems like there are times when the Cleveland Cavaliers can stop a team or a player from scoring at will. Take for example the other night in New York. Carmelo Anthony had 20 points before halftime, and the Knicks were leading the Cavaliers at halftime as a result. Then came the second half, when James took on the responsibility of really guarding Anthony, and Carmelo went 1-9 with 5 points the rest of the way.

Thats how I feel the Cavaliers defense plays. One minute, Cleveland’s playing lock-down defense, then the next they’re allowing easy alley-oops, floaters, and layups. Now, unlike the free throw percentage, the Cavaliers are ranked as one of the NBA’s best when it comes to defensive efficiency. However, there are times and there are players who make it look like the Cavaliers struggle in this department.

Take for instance the effort in the loss to the Detroit Pistons.  Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond had the run of the floor. If Jackson wanted a runner down the lane they’d set a high pick with Drummond, then Jackson would switch and be in front of his new defender only to drop in an easy floater. Then the next time they would come down the court and do the same thing, only this time Drummond would cut to the hoop for an easy alley-oop.

It seemed so easy to stop, yet it happened time and time again. Who’s to blame? Timofey Mozgov allowing the screen to happen where it did and allowing Drummond the free run to the hoop? Or Williams for not returning to body up on Jackson after the pick-and-roll? That speaks to laziness on the defensive side.  Whether it was another player coming over to provide help when he’d see the play happening, which crowded the paint, or simply each player staying tighter on their man,  I’m not sure about. What I do know is that it’s troublesome that these kinds of plays keep happening.

More from Factory of Sadness

If the Cavaliers want to be the NBA champs and beat a team such as Golden State, they’re going to have to figure out how to play 48-minute defense. They can’t let up because the play seems helpless, or simply let other players just dominate them. If I were coach Blatt, I’d make Dellevadova my example. The reason that he is an effective defender is because he doesn’t give up. Even when he gets beat he still tries to chase his man down and get his hand in their line of vision or at least let his pursuit shake a player’s confidence a bit.

Again it’s early on, but I’d still like to see that increased effort. I don’t want the lazy defensive efforts to be something that becomes a trend. Playing through the play can only promote good habits. Then maybe the Cavs won’t have to battle back from deficits or fight for the close ones at the end of games.

Next: At 8-3, There's a lot to be Proud Of