Are the Cleveland Cavaliers pretenders or contenders for the NBA Title. If you let defensive stats tell the story, Cavs’ fans are going to be sad come June.
Tyronn Lue took over the Cavs midseason with the perception among fans that he was going to get the Cavs over the hump when the NBA Finals commence this June.
But as Saturday’s loss to the Heat showed, the Cavs still have major holes, evidenced by the 122 points Cleveland surrounded, and defense is the at heart of the issue.
Since Lue took over, the Cavs have eroded defensively, as Brian Windhorst recently wrote. Cleveland ranks 14th in defensive rating since Lue was handed the job, while during that same time, the Cavs are 20th in defensive field goal percentage.
As Windy noted, this is a big drop off from when Lue was an assistant acting as the team’s defensive coordinator.
"“What makes it more interesting is the Cavs were fifth in defensive rating and ninth in field goal defense when Lue was in charge of the defense before Blatt was fired. Lue has since hired assistant coach Mike Longabardi to be the defensive coordinator, and he has turned his focus to offense."
“I was hoping his defense would improve as the season progressed,” Pluto wrote. “He is farther along from his summer surgery to repair a fractured kneecap. It was great to see him save the Cavs victory over Dallas on Monday with a steal…But the eye test indicates his defense has not shaped up. The stats indicate it’s even a little worse.”
Irving has never been thought of as a defensive maven, but he was at least average during the playoffs last season. Remember, it was also during this period when Cleveland stumbled into being an elite defensive squad.
Kevin Love went down in the Boston series, which meant more playing time for Tristan Thompson. Irving also suffered through injuries before finally exiting the postseason with his knee-cap injury in the finals. With Irving nursing injuries in the second and third rounds, Matthew Dellavedova stepped up.
Add the elevated play of Thompson and Delly to the fact LeBron James is still one of the best defenders in the game, along with Iman Shumpert playing whole lot better than his current stats show, and the Cavs were excellent defensively.
Cleveland even had that 2-1 lead in the Finals. The problem? You still need Irving and Love as your big guns. Scoring needs to come from somewhere.
The Cleveland Cavaliers deserve credit for being proactive. Despite a winning record under David Blatt, the powers-that-be didn’t think the Euro-coaching legend was good enough to get the Cavs over the hump.
He’s had little time to practice and institute his brand of basketball.
Time is running out for the Cavs, with the Raptors closing in on Cleveland for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. Even without the top billing, the Cavs should still be the favorites to represent the East, but it’s becoming harder and harder to believe to think this team can just flip a switch.
The old adage “defense wins championships” exists for a reason, largely because it’s true, and Cleveland has been trending in the wrong direction.