Tonight, the Cleveland Cavaliers start the second half of their season with a game on the road in Utah.
That is fitting, because the wine and gold have spent most of the first half of the campaign on the road. As of today, no team in the NBA has played as many games away from home as the Cavs.
And with the success of teams at home in the league, that has to be a contributing factor in Cleveland record, currently the second worst in the NBA. Another reason for the 10-31 mark is the lack of victories achieved by Byron Scott’s crew when they are at home, as no team has had less success in their home arena than the Cavaliers’ 4-12 mark.
The lack of any extended home play is a cause for that record, and it will have to get better in the second half because Cleveland will play 25 of their final 40 games at Quicken Loans Arena.
Any improvement will have to start on the defensive end of the floor, as the wine and gold rank last in the association in defensive field goal percentage, and are seventh from the bottom in points allowed and in three-point field goal defense.
It is difficult for Scott’s team to win when they don’t compete on the defensive end, and that starts with the backcourt containing the men they are guarding. When Kyrie Irving is keeping his man in front of him, the Cleveland defense is much better. Irving is the team’s best player without a doubt, and he has to take the defensive responsibility that goes with it.
Defending that is a key because Cleveland doesn’t have the big men necessary to stop players from attacking the basket. Rookie Tyler Zeller has a promising future, but needs to get a lot stronger to be a force on the defensive end of the floor.
Besides the quantity of road games, another promising statistic for the Cavs is that they are the NBA’s youngest team, averaging 24.0 years old as a roster. If you are going to be bad, at least be young because you should get better.
There are other things evident about this young basketball team.
First, we came into the season wanting to keep Anderson Varejao, but it is time to deal the big man, who was having a tremendous season (14.1 points and 14.4 rebounds per night) before splitting a muscle in his leg.
There is no doubt the Brazilian can play, and he has great value to a contender, so he would bring a lot of value for GM Chris Grant. Unfortunately, it won’t be as much as it could be if he could stay healthy, which he hasn’t been able to do over the last three years.
He needs to be dealt though, because it is obvious that PF Tristan Thompson, the fourth overall pick a year ago, is a much better player when Varejao isn’t on the floor.
Thompson is getting 10.3 points and 9.3 rebounds a night, which makes him a solid NBA player. However, in his last 16 contests, the second year player out of Texas is scoring 14.1 and grabbing 11.9 boards per night. Pretty close to what Varejao is doing.
You may argue that putting them together would be ideal, but it doesn’t work. They are too similar as to what they do. They go after the same rebounds, and on offense they are “garbage” players, meaning they score off of hustle plays and offensive rebounds.
And remember that Thompson is just 21 years old, and should continue to get bigger and stronger.
Obviously, a trade can’t be made now, but the Cavaliers have too many other needs to keep two good players who do the same thing.
Rookie first round pick Dion Waiters (14.5 points, 3 assists a game) is getting better with every month, and Zeller looks like a keeper too.
Still, the Cavaliers need more talent in order to start winning basketball games consistently. Right now, they look to have four players who can be starters (Irving, Waiters, Zeller, and Thompson) and two solid bench players in Alonzo Gee and C. J. Miles.
That’s not enough.
With two first round picks in this draft, and a trade chip in Varejao, it’s time for Grant to put this team in position to contend for the playoffs this year.
It doesn’t seem possible right now, but Cavs’ fans can start to see pieces being put in place.