Cavs Will Be Fine Despite Recent Defensive Woes

Mar 22, 2017; Denver, CO, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) reacts during the second half against the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center. The Nuggets won 126-113. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 22, 2017; Denver, CO, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) reacts during the second half against the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center. The Nuggets won 126-113. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports /

Despite recent defensive struggles, the Cavs have time to work through some issues and get back to playing their brand of basketball.

The Cleveland Cavs are currently a disaster on defense. This is not a hyperbole – they have been nearly the worst team on that end of the floor since the All-Star break.

According to’s advanced stats, the Cavs currently have the second-worst defensive rating in the NBA since the All-Star break. Only the Los Angeles Lakers (113.8) are worse than the Cavs (113.2).

Last year, the Cavs had a defensive rating of 102.3 over the course of the season. The team played at a level closer to last year, with a defensive rating of 106.5, before the All-Star break. Since then, things have gone downhill.

Right now, the Cavs are working through a multitude of issues.

First and foremost, the team has been snakebitten by injuries. Since acquiring Kyle Korver, Derrick Williams, Deron Williams and Larry Sanders, the Cavs have played just two games as a healthy, cohesive unit.

J.R. Smith has played just a couple handfuls of games since returning from his thumb injury. Kevin Love has made just six appearances since coming back from knee surgery. Iman Shumpert has been in-and-out of the lineup. Andrew Bogut lasted just 52 seconds as a Cavalier. There has been almost no time to gel as a team.

In those two games, the Cavs are 1-1, with a loss to the Denver Nuggets and a win over the Charlotte Hornets. Clearly, this is not a large enough sample size to judge the team’s overall defensive effectiveness. And as players get healthy and have practice time to gel, the defense should improve.

Another big factor playing into the Cavs’ defensive struggles is the effectiveness of Tristan Thompson. Since the All-Star break, TT has had just five games of double-digit rebounds. Without Love in the lineup for all but six games in the second-half, the Cavs have needed Thompson to step up – and he has not.

The lack of rebounding has led to more possessions for the opposition. The Cavs’ offensive rebounding percentage since the break, according to’s advanced stats, is second-to-last in the league at 17.6%. Who typically feasts on the offensive glass? That’s right, Thompson, who has not had the same success in the second half. More one-and-done possessions on offense means more possessions for the opposition.

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The injury to Bogut really hurt the Cavs – Thompson in particular. The owner of a consecutive games played streak that currently sits over 350, TT needs rest. Bogut, a reliable rim protector and rebounder, basically eliminated any chances for Thompson to get a much-needed rest with his season-ending injury.

However, Sanders is working into form in the D-League for the Canton Charge and should hopefully be able to provide TT with some rest before the end of the season. That should hopefully allow him to get back to his bread and butter – attacking the offensive and defensive glass.

Sticking on rest, the NBA commissioner Adam Silver recently sent a memo to the league about team’s resting healthy players, saying resting healthy starters is “an extremely significant issue for our league.” A strategy adopted and employed years ago by San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is now being condemned because, well, the Cavs and LeBron James are involved.

The memo came in response to the Cavs’ decision to rest the Big Three on Mar. 18 in a nationally-televised game.

Coach Tyronn Lue mentioned before Monday’s embarrassing loss to the Spurs that he has considering resting players like his mentor, Doc Rivers, did with the Boston Celtics during the 2009-2010 season. However, Lue also made it clear that “(the memo) crossed my mind. I might get in trouble (with NBA commissioner Adam Silver), so I don’t know.”

However, the Cavaliers’s coach may have a legitimate reason to rest, as he said after Monday’s game:

"“The crazy part about it. We start off the right way, but teams are so much faster than us. They just look so much faster than we are. I mean. I mean, damn. It just looks like, just beat us on the dribble, transition, just looking faster.” – Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue, Mar. 27, 2017"

The Cavs must be wondering if rest will lead to league punishment, even though it sounds like some starters may need that rest. It is anyone’s best guess what will actually come of Silver’s threat, however.

Luckily for the Cavs, and the fans, there is still time to get these things resolved.

What do all of these issues revolve around? Rest and health. As the rest of the season progresses, there will be plenty of time for the players to rest up and get healthy, as well as continue to mesh as a unit. The limited time that the team has had together at full strength has been a major issue. That should help the defensive issues in terms of communication, rotations, energy, etc.

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Interestingly, the Cavs may already have a plan in place to fix the defense, but they just have not shown it yet. After the loss to the Washington Wizards on Mar. 25, coach Lue made some very interesting comments to the media.

"“We’ve got to hold back. We can’t show our hand early because … these are some good teams and we don’t want them to be able to come into a series and be able to adjust to what we do. We just have to be able to play our normal defense until we get there and then we will see what happens.” – Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue, Mar. 25, 2017"

The Cavs also were in a fairly-similar place last year. According to basketball-reference, on Mar. 24, 2016, the Cavs lost a game to the hapless Brooklyn Nets 104-95. What did’s Chris Fedor say about the loss? Something that could also easily be applied to right now.

"“They’re bored. They want the playoffs to start. This loss won’t matter in a few weeks. The NBA regular season is too long. It was the second game of a back-to-back.” –’s Chris Fedor, Mar. 25, 2016"

Just the week before, the Cavs were blasted by 21 points against the Miami Heat. They lost three of their last four to close out the season. But they still went on to win the NBA Finals.

And of course, the man that guided them through that rocky end-of-the-year-stretch and helped bring a championship to Cleveland – LeBron James – is still here…and not worried. James declared it is a “delicate time” for the Cavs right now, but he also said that his “time will come” to talk to the team.

He does not sound like a panicked man. James, who has brought teams through rougher patches, sounds like he is channeling his inner Aaron Rodgers – RELAX.

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The saying “time heals all wounds” certainly does apply here. If the Cavs can get healthy, gel as a unit, learn from previous experiences and employ new defensive schemes, James and crew can get this team back to the winning brand of basketball Clevelanders have grown accustomed to the past three seasons.