Today, the Cleveland Cavaliers will start a journey in which they hopes ends in a repeat of last season…an NBA title.
They will also try to prove that a team’s performance in the regular season is absolutely meaningless.
The Cavs are limping into the post-season, going just 12-15 since the All Star Game, and basically playing at a .500 level since the beginning of the calendar year.
However, they still have the sports’ preeminent player in LeBron James and for the most part, the same cast and characters that brought home the Larry O”Brien Trophy on June 19, 2016.
Most of the concern surrounding Tyronn Lue’s squad is the defense, or rather, the lack of it, through much of the last three and a half months.
Can Lue and his staff correct the problems that befell the team during that span?
They start the playoffs today at Quicken Loans Arena against the Indiana Pacers, in a best-of-seven series. While the Pacers were the 7th seed, and the wine and gold have the home court advantage, they do represent some challenges for the Cavs.
First, they have one of the game’s better players in Paul George, who happens to play small forward, the same position as James. While we don’t expect James to guard him for 48 minutes, he will have to check him during crunch time.
George is a 39% shooter from beyond the arc, and overall, the Pacers rank 4th in the NBA in three point field goal percentage. That has been one of the Cavaliers’ weaknesses throughout the past several weeks.
Lue pointed out C.J. Miles as a problem for the Cavs, and he shot 41.3% from distance as well. Add in Glenn Robinson , Thaddeus Young, and back up point guard Aaron Brooks, and Cleveland has its work cut out for them. They have to get a hand in the face of these shooters.
On the other hand, George will have to expend a lot of energy guarding James, and we all know that takes its toll on everyone, especially over a long series.
What it comes down to for the Cavs is can they get decent minutes from the bench in this series, and also, is Tristan Thompson’s thumb going to allow him to be effective.
Lately, the team has received very little from Richard Jefferson and Iman Shumpert, leaving the bench scoring to have to come from Kyle Korver and Channing Frye. Deron Williams played well in the last two games, but has yet to show he can be effective when on the floor with James and Kyrie Irving.
We know what a gifted offensive player Irving is, but this post-season will hinge on his defensive play. He has to be able to keep his man in front of him.
Lue also needs JR Smith to regain his shooting touch too. And it wouldn’t hurt to establish Kevin Love in the post early in games.
However, it still comes down to defense. The Cavs don’t need to get in a mode of having to outscore everyone in the playoffs. They need stops.
Failure to improve defensively may not be a problem in the Indiana series, but it could hurt them down the road.
That’s the key thing to watch in this one.
If the Cavs want to get extra rest, it would behoove them to win the first two games at home. Failure to do that could result in a six or seven game series.