The Cleveland Cavaliers either have a huge problem or they are deceiving the rest of the NBA.
They haven’t played solid defense for most of the season, but over the last few weeks, the ease at which opponents are scoring has become alarming. Allowing over 125 points is becoming a regular occurrence.
We feel there are several factors at work here, some of which can be fixed prior to the beginning of the NBA playoffs, and some that may not be able to be repaired.
The first problem is familiarity. Since JR Smith was injured around the holidays, Cleveland’s roster has been in flux. Kyle Korver, Derrick Williams, Deron Williams, Andrew Bogut, and Larry Sanders have all been brought in, and Smith and Kevin Love missed significant time with injuries.
Those things, coupled with the lack of practice time NBA teams, particularly older ones, get during the regular season, make defensive rotations difficult to assimilate, and that shows in games.
There are many nights where the wine and gold look like they just met in a pick up game on the playground. Really, they pretty much did.
The second problem is the defensive schemes are very vanilla, and this is by design because Tyronn Lue and his staff aren’t showing anything for the playoffs. For the most part, the Cavs aren’t blitzing the pick and roll, and aren’t trapping point guards to force the ball out of his hands.
We are sure this will be done once the post-season starts. Think back to the Boston game early in March and last night’s contest vs. Washington. The Cavaliers pretty much guarded both Isaiah Thomas and John Wall straight up. That won’t be the case in a playoff series.
It looks ugly now, but why show either potential opponent your cards before you have to.
However, we can call into question Lue’s playing rotations. He has a deep roster, but still insists on playing LeBron James 38-40 minutes per game. With the playoffs beckoning, why not reduce that to around 32 per night.
He also has too many lineups on the floor with glaring deficiencies. For example, a group without Love and Tristan Thompson, which results in opponents getting second and third shot chances.
We see too many group on the floor without a solid defender besides James. It is his job to make sure there are at least two or maybe three players who can guard someone on the floor at all times.
He has cut back on the playing time of Derrick Williams, an young, active guy who has shown signs he can guard someone. Which is exactly what the Cavs need right now.
We know Cleveland wants to go into the playoffs healthy, but a big problem defensively is allowing dribble penetration out front. Kyrie Irving isn’t fighting through picks and isn’t staying in front of his man.
If you know the game, this leads to the interior defenders having to pick those men up, leaving their man open, or leading to ball rotation for an open three point look. You can’t have that in the playoffs.
Speaking of interior defense, all of the minutes and guarding on the perimeter seem to have taken a toll on Thompson, whose defense has slipped as the season has progressed.
His ability to guard smaller men away from the basket on switches was a key to last year’s title run.
The regular season games are winding down, meaning fixing the problem soon is critical to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
If they play defense like they have over the last month or so, they simply will not win the Eastern Conference again. Let’s hope our theory on being secretive about their plans is correct.