The Cleveland Cavaliers still sit at the top of the NBA’s Eastern Conference standings at 30-12, but they’ve hit a little bit of a slump.
They have split their last eight games, six of those coming on a long trip that spanned from Brooklyn to Golden State.
It appears the changes that have occurred to the roster have caught up a bit to Tyronn Lue and the guys in wine and gold.
First, they lost JR Smith to a thumb injury that will keep him out of the lineup until the middle of March at the earliest. That led Lue to replace him with DeAndre Liggins, but he is not a very good outside shooter, and the league figured that out pretty quickly.
That forced Lue to start Iman Shumpert in Smith’s usual spot, which takes away from the defense on the second unit.
For example, Lue started newly acquired Kyle Korver, Channing Frye, Richard Jefferson, and Liggins with LeBron James at the start of the second and fourth quarters, and San Antonio went on runs both times.
Getting Korver is another change for Lue to handle. He doesn’t seem to know exactly how he fits right now, mostly because of the very little practice time the team has had since he arrived.
Perhaps the best thing to do is to start Korver in Smith’s spot and put everyone back in their accustomed spots, the way it was early in the year when the Cavs were rolling.
Another complication has been nagging injuries to two of the “Big Three”, an ankle problem for Kyrie Irving and a back issue for Kevin Love.
Irving is shooting the three ball like he did two years ago, and his assist numbers are the highest since before James returned to the team.
In the seven games right before he hurt his ankle vs. Boston, Irving averaged 24 points and 10 assists per game with slightly less than three turnovers.
Since returning to the lineup, he has played eight games. His scoring is fine at 23.5 points, but his assists are down to 4.5 and his turnovers are over three per night.
He just hasn’t found the groove he was in before the ankle issue.
Love’s back has been bothering him since the New Orleans game the day after New Year’s, and his production has dropping off dramatically.
He has scored over 20 points just once in that span and hasn’t shot over 50% in a game since the Cavaliers beat the Lakers on December 17th.
Besides the back issues, it seems like the Cavs have gotten away from getting Love touches near the basket, as he is relying more and more on three point shots.
In last night’s loss to the Spurs, Love took 15 total shots, 11 of those from behind the arc.
The team needs a healthy Kevin Love to succeed, but the lack of depth at the #4 and #5 spots in the lineup make it tough for that to happen.
We know James has lobbied for a back up point guard, but right now, the weakness that needs to be addressed is interior defense, which hasn’t been good as of late, and really the only player who can be counted on the contribute there is Tristan Thompson.
GM David Griffin needs to get another big, and the sooner the better.
We have faith that Lue will get the rotations down quickly and when Korver is more acclimated to the team, the Cavs will start playing well again soon.
We know what this team is capable of, and the talent is certainly there. They are simply going through a period where a lot of players are nicked up and others have had to change their roles.
Lue and Griffin have earned the trust that they will take care of this. With three home games following Monday’s game in New Orleans, and then five out of the next six on the road, it might be time to right the ship.