Getting To Finals Doesn’t Get Old

Let it soak in Cleveland.

It was anticipated since the start of the regular season that the Cavaliers would get back to The NBA Finals and have a chance to defend the title they won last June 19th.

And here we are after the Cavs dominated the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals, four games to one.

The only game Boston won, the wine and gold had a 21 point lead midway through the third quarter.

It was that much of a mismatch.

So, the Cavaliers, a downtrodden franchise since the Mark Price, Brad Daugherty, and Larry Nance era, is heading to their third consecutive trip to The Finals, and the fourth overall in franchise history.

All four of those squad contain a certain LeBron James, who became the most prolific scorer in league playoff history tonight.

As for James, he is making his seventh consecutive trip to The Finals and his eighth overall.

Just for comparison, Michael Jordan played for the NBA title six times.

The only players in NBA history who have played in more championship series are as follows:

Bill Russell                      12
Sam Jones                       11
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar  10
Jerry West                        9
Magic Johnson                9
Tommy Heinsohn          9

That’s it.  Three of those players played with those Celtic teams that dominated the late 50’s and 60’s.  It’s incredible to ponder James’ greatness and to think he has now been to the ultimate series four times with two different franchises.

Of course, we know just getting to The Finals isn’t enough for James or the rest of the Cavaliers for that matter.

This is the rubber match against the Golden State Warriors, and unlike the great Celtic-Lakers’ rivalry in the 1980’s, we don’t think there is a lot of respect for each other.

Cleveland would love to win this match up, not only to repeat as champions, but also to give them bragging rights in this trilogy.

You have to feel good for two veterans making their first Finals appearance in Deron Williams and Kyle Korver, both of whom joined the Cavs during the season.

Williams has been in the league for 12 seasons, made the All Star team five times, and played on the US Olympic team.  The closest he got previously was in his second NBA season when the Jazz lost to San Antonio in the Western Conference Finals.

Korver was swept out of the playoffs the last two seasons by the Cavaliers, giving new meaning to the “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” saying.

He got to the conference finals twice, losing as a member of the Chicago Bulls in 2010-11 and with the Hawks in 2014-15.  Both times, he lost to a team featuring LeBron James.

Be ready for a national media blitz extoling the virtues of the Golden State Warriors and how they cannot be beaten.  They aren’t unbeatable.

That doesn’t mean we are expecting a Cavalier victory, but we are saying if the wine and gold execute their game plan, they can beat the Warriors again.

Remember, the Western Conference Finals were played with San Antonio missing one of the top five players in the NBA in Kawhi Leonard.  The Spurs would have trouble beating Toronto or Boston in a seven game series without Leonard.

These are the halcyon days for the Cleveland Cavaliers.  As James himself said after last night’s win, don’t take this for granted.  After all, before James came back to the team, it had only happened once.

JK

Kyrie Can Be Frustrating At Times, But He Stepped Up At Right Time.

It didn’t look good halfway through the second quarter of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals last night.

The Boston Celtics were making virtually every open shot, and LeBron James picked up his fourth foul in the first half.  Could the Cavs weather the last six minutes of the half without getting blown out?

Kyrie Irving made sure Cleveland stayed within shouting distance until James could return to the game after the half, scoring in a variety of ways to keep the wine and gold at a 10 point deficit at intermission.

In the third quarter, Irving went berserk, scoring 50% of his playoff career high 42 points in the period as the Cavaliers outscored Boston by 17 (40-23) to flip the game in Tyronn Lue’s team’s favor.

We have been critical of Irving from time to time for not passing enough, falling in love with his dribble, and not playing hard on defense.

In Game 3 Sunday night, we thought Irving forced the action a bit too much in the fourth quarter, playing hero ball because he was looking to take over, and the defense wouldn’t let them.

Last night, he knew his team needed a lift with James on the bench with four fouls, and hit some outside shots to get going, and after those went down, it opened up driving lanes for him.

Our criticism of Irving comes because he is so talented.  He may have the best ball handling skills in the league, he’s a gifted shooter both from outside and around the basket, even though he gives up a lot of height near the hoop.

He doesn’t understand at times when he needs to take over, and when he needs to sit back and get his teammates going.  Then again, he is just 25 years old.  He has plenty of time to learn when and where and how to do it.

Irving shot an astounding 15 of 22 from the floor, including 4 of 7 from behind the three point line, in a game the Cavs absolutely had to have.

Can you imagine if the series went back to Boston even with two the remaining games in Beantown?

The wine and gold definitely needed to win this one, and with the best player in the game on the bench for the last six minutes of the half, Irving took control and didn’t let the Cavaliers get blown out.

With Irving going crazy, LeBron James got back in the groove, and by the end of the contest, his jump shot, which seemed to go AWOL in game three, returned.  That should bode well for the fifth game tomorrow night.

And don’t discount Kevin Love’s contributions either.  With Boston using two or three players to box out Tristan Thompson, Love picked up the slack with 17 rebounds to go along with 17 points.

In the playoffs, you win with defense, and the Cavs picked up their intensity in the second half too.  James always talks about playing with desperation, and being down at the half seemed to get that edge back for Cleveland too.

But the night belonged to Kyrie Irving and his incredible array of shot making.  When he combines that with the ability to make his teammates involved, Irving can join the list of elite NBA players.

JK

 

 

Cavs And Celts For A Trip To The Finals

It seems like a lifetime ago that the Cleveland Cavaliers last played a basketball game.  When they take the floor in Boston on Wednesday, it will have been 10 days since they played a real contest.

And with the first two games in Boston Garden, when the wine and gold comes home for game three, it will have been 18 days since they last took the court in Quicken Loans Arena.

Boston earned the home court advantage by winning 53 regular season games, compared to Cleveland’s 51 victories, but in terms of point differential, the Cavs show to be better, outscoring their opponents by 3.1 points (110.3 to 107.2) compared to the Celtics 2.6 (108.0 to 105.4).

The Celts have a reputation of being a very good defensive team, holding opponents to a 45% field goal percentage.

However, the team the Cavaliers just eliminated, the Toronto Raptors, were even better at 44.9%.

One decided advantage Cleveland has is on the boards.  Boston ranks low in that category, meaning Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love should control the glass.

As we know, Tyronn Lue likes to make someone other than the opponents’ best player to beat him in a playoff series, so no doubt the wine and gold will focus on Isaiah Thomas, who led Boston in scoring at 28.9 points per game, 12.6 more than the next best scorer, Avery Bradley.

We would expect Lue will blitz Thomas, forcing the ball out of his hands.

When the Cavs beat the Celts in the last regular season matchup in Boston, our thought was Boston had no answer for the game’s best player, LeBron James.

Boston’s starting small forward is Jae Crowder, who is just 6’6″.  A wise man said the problem with James is if you are big enough, you aren’t quick enough, and if you are quick enough, you aren’t big enough.

That capsulizes the Celtics’ problem perfectly.

Crowder can’t check LeBron, and we are pretty sure Brad Stevens knows it.  And of course, if you double him, he will find the bevy of shooters Cleveland has on its roster.

We also expect Lue to put Kyrie Irving (6’3″) in the post when he is being guarded by Thomas, who at best is 5’9″.

We would expect Stevens to do what he did in the first round matchup between the two teams in 2015, be very physical with the Cavs to get a reaction.

However, that was the first playoff experience for many of the Cavaliers.  This time, they are old heads, with a championship under their belt.

Still, this isn’t to dismiss Boston.  They are extremely well coached, as Stevens is one of the finest basketball minds in America.  But Lue can match him in X’s and O’s too.

What we are interested to see is what kind of gimmicks defensively the Celtics’ coach will come up with to stop the Cavs.  Perhaps he will make James a scorer first and try to cut off everyone else.

To combat this, Lue will try to make Kevin Love a scorer.  Love will draw Al Horford or Amir Johnson as a defender.  If it’s Horford, Love should go inside, if it’s Johnson, he will go outside.

We usually can find ways for the Cavaliers to lose if they don’t do certain things, so it scares us that we really can’t find anything in this series.

Cleveland should win and should win fairly easily and advance to The NBA Finals for the third straight year.

It would be great to go into Beantown tomorrow, and punch the Celtics in the face to show them early in the series there isn’t hope.

We will find out starting tomorrow night.

JK

 

 

 

Cavs Keep On Rolling

Another series, another sweep for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Tyronn Lue’s squad is moving on to the Eastern Conference final for the third straight season after taking care of the Toronto Raptors in the minimum amount of games.

And save me the Kyle Lowry excuses, Raptors fans.  Yes, he is your team’s second best player and an all star. But outside of Cleveland, no one cares the Warriors won The Finals in 2015 because Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were out.

Also, no one cares outside of northeast Ohio that Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar couldn’t start in the World Series.

It’s a loser’s lament.  We get it, it has happened to our teams, but in the end, people won’t remember.  Besides, the Cavs were dominating the Raptors (sorry, Dwayne Casey) before Lowry sprained his ankle.

So, as a result of the sweep, the veteran Cavs will probably get another week off before they take on the winner of the series between the Celtics and Wizards.

Just think how good the Cavaliers can be if Kyrie Irving ever starts shooting the ball well.  Irving shot under 40% from the floor in this series (37.5%), although he was better from three point range in the conference semi-finals.

It was another incredible performance by the sport’s best player, LeBron James.  The King averaged 36 points per game against Toronto, shooting 57.3% from the floor, hitting 48% of his long range shots.

He complemented the scoring and shooting by adding 8 rebounds and 7 assists in the series.  It has taken the post-season for everyone around the country to appreciate the greatness of LeBron James.

During the regular season, all basketball fans heard about were Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and to a lesser extent, Kawhi Leonard.

All three had tremendous regular seasons, but since the playoffs have started, James is reminding everyone who the best player in basketball still is.

Another thing this series showed is the transformation of JR Smith.  Smith came to Cleveland with the reputation as a shooter without a conscience, but now can be put on the opponents’ best wing scorer, and put him in check.

Smith’s defense of DeMar DeRozan in the first two games of the series was a big key.  Add that to the job he did against Paul George in the first round, he is a huge for what Cleveland wants to do defensively.

Back to Irving, he did a great job passing in this series, averaging 8.5 assists in the four games.  When Irving gets seven assists or more in a game, the Cavs are 23-6 for the season, including the playoffs.

And when Irving is being rested, Deron Williams has played very well.  He was on the floor when Cleveland busted open game three in Toronto, just as he was in the big comeback win over the Pacers in round one.

Finally, Kyle Korver was huge in the last two games of the series, hitting two huge three on Friday and going crazy in the second quarter today with 16 points on four three pointers.

And the defense continues to improve too, which was a huge concern going into the post-season.  When Toronto missed shots, Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love gathered up the misses.

So, the Cavs are back in the NBA Final Four, the conference finals.  Even if Boston wins the series in five (the quickest it can be over), it will probably be the upcoming weekend before the next series starts.

That’s the biggest benefit for winning early.

JK

 

 

 

Cavs Biggest Opponent Now Is Themselves.

The probability of the Cleveland Cavaliers losing their first round series wasn’t very high at the start of the matchup.

However, someone forgot to tell the Indiana Pacers that, because they almost won Game 1, and recovered from a 19 point deficit in the second half to make the second game closer than it should have been, but the wine and gold prevailed, 117-111 to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

So, the Pacers have the daunting task of having to be a LeBron James led team four out of five games to advance to the Eastern Conference semi-finals.

While publicly James says it doesn’t matter how many points the Cavs win by, as long as they win, the point is in a first round match up, style points do count, especially if the team struggled the way Tyronn Lue’s squad did over the last month of the regular season.

In game one, Cleveland had trouble on the defensive glass and shot just barely over 50% from the free throw line.  That’s not a good recipe for winning in the playoffs.

Last night, the Cavs won the battle of the boards, but only because the three frontcourt starters (James, Kevin Love, and Tristan Thompson) all had ten or more boards, because no one else had more than two rebounds.

And the home team hit 20 of 23 from the charity stripe, with the only three misses coming from James, who is working on a new free throw routine after a career low percentage from the line.

Again, only three players took free throws, with Love and Kyrie Irving making all 17 of their shots.

Iman Shumpert provided a lift in the second half after JR Smith left with a hamstring problem.  Shumpert seemed focused after getting a DNP-CD on Saturday, playing solid defense on Paul George, and chipping in with five points.

The bench still isn’t providing a lot of scoring.  Deron Williams had nine, but in total, the subs only scored 21, compared to the Pacers, who had 32 points off the bench.

Don’t blame Kyle Korver though.  Although the veteran has only taken five shots in the two games, he has captured the attention of Indiana, because his man isn’t helping off him.  That leaves the lane open for James and Irving to get to the basket.

Cleveland was +10 with Korver on the floor.

We understand it is early in the playoff chase, but the defensive issues which plagued the wine and gold recently haven’t been totally cured.  Indiana shot 51% in game two.

Nor have the issues with a fourth quarter lead disappeared.  The Cavs move the ball very well to get the lead, and then revert to isolation sets, which are resulting in long, missed shots on offense.

This allows the opponents to get back in the game.  And the culprits are usually James and Irving.

The Cavs only had 19 assists on 42 made shots in game two.  James had 7 assists, but Love was the only other Cleveland player with more than two.

Look, we don’t want the Cavaliers to be playing at their best right now.  Hopefully, they will get better incrementally as the playoffs move on, so they are playing at peak efficiency when and if they return to the NBA Finals.

Unfortunately, they can’t play poorly enough that they don’t win the Eastern Conference.

The best thing for Lue’s team is to make short work of the Pacers, and get plenty of rest before the second round matchup.  The quest for that begins Thursday night in Indianapolis.

JK

 

 

Cavs-Pacers Preview

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.

JK

Trust In Cavs’ Playoff Hopes Are Based On LeBron

Since the first of March, we don’t know what to make of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

They went through that month sleepwalking on defense for the most part, and their three point shooting, a staple of their offense, began to get hit or miss.

Then, last Wednesday, they hammered the Boston Celtics, their rivals for the best record in the Eastern Conference during the regular season, in Boston no less, and it looked like they were on the right track.

But Friday night, the wine and gold was basically run off their home floor by an Atlanta Hawks’ team that gave their starters the night off.

It was similar to a year ago when Memphis was without many of their regulars and knocked off Cleveland at Quicken Loans Arena.

After the game, Kyrie Irving revealed that his knee was very sore on Thursday, yet Tyronn Lue played him Friday with a two game lead in the Conference standings.

Tristan Thompson is already out of the lineup with a sprained thumb, and Kyle Korver has missed several games recently with a foot issue.

Put all these factors together, and it doesn’t seem like it’s the formula for defending the NBA title the Cavs won last June.

In fact, there is only one reason for optimism.  LeBron James plays for the Cavaliers.

Yes, you can talk about Russell Westbrook and James Harden for MVP, and we know Stephen Curry has won the award the last two seasons, but everyone knows that James is still the best player in the sport, and still its most dominant force.

For all of the talk about how Cleveland came back from a 3-1 deficit against the Warriors a year ago because Curry was banged up, Andrew Bogut was hurt, and Draymond Green was suspended for Game 5, no one talks about how James took that same Warriors’ squad to six games the year before without Irving and Kevin Love.

With Matthew Dellavedova and Thompson as his primary wingmen, he actually had the Cavaliers with a 2-1 lead in the series.

So despite the Cavs’ struggles over the last six weeks, we pin our hopes on James.  And quite frankly, he’s earned that respect.

Lue should be called into question for some of the struggles.  He has played James too many minutes, and Irving too, which many be a reason for his sore knees.

And after integrating the new players seamlessly a year ago, Deron Williams still seems lost, and Derrick Williams, who played well when he first came to Cleveland seems to be a forgotten man.

Deron Williams seems to defer way too much to LeBron and Irving.  Let him do what he has done throughout his career, run the offense.  He’s not a good defender anymore, but he is almost in a shooting role, and he’s not making shots.

The bench has been struggling lately, and it has been missing youth and athleticism, both of which Derrick Williams can provide.  And he showed he could defend when he arrived on the north coast.

Lue needs to give him some minutes, probably at the expense of Iman Shumpert, but with a lot of age on the bench, maybe just use the extra body and play the 30+ year olds a few minutes less per game.

A win on Friday night and a win today in Atlanta would have allowed Lue to rest his key players until the playoffs begin next weekend.

The most important thing for the post-season run is having James, Irving, and Thompson rested and ready to go.  We would include Kevin Love too, but he missed six weeks recently and probably needs the court time.

Pinning hopes on James is a tried and true method of winning, and based on recent events, it’s the only hope fans should be putting any credence in.

JK

 

 

Guess The Cavs Were Bored in March?

If you subscribe to the theory that the Cleveland Cavaliers were just playing out the regular season, waiting for the playoffs, what you saw last night was Exhibit A.

After a feeling out period in the first quarter, after which Boston held a one point lead, the Cavs dominated the Celtics the rest of the way, in route to a resounding 114-91 win.

Did we mention the blowout occurred in Boston?

The win should sew up the top seed in the Eastern Conference for Cleveland, which now holds a one game lead over Boston, and holds the tie-breaker by winning the season series against Brad Stevens’ team, three games to one.

Much has been made about the wine and gold’s play defensively after the All Star break, as the Cavs ranked 29th in the NBA in defensive efficiency in that time span, but Tyronn Lue’s squad held the Celts to just 91 points for the game, and just 41% shooting for the contest.

And the wine and gold did some creative things defensively, blitzing the pick and roll on occasion, and trapping too, things they haven’t showed on defense since the calendar turned to 2017.

It was almost like the contest was a dress rehearsal for the playoffs, which start in about a week and a half.

Isaiah Thomas, Boston’s best player, got his, scoring 26 points, but the truth is the Celtics don’t have a good “wingman” for Thomas, as Jae Crowder was next with 13 points, and Al Horford, who must have nightmares about the Cavs, had 12.

Meanwhile, Cleveland had five players in double figures, led by the sport’s best player, LeBron James, who dominated the second quarter, had 36, and he was backed up by Kyrie Irving (19), Kevin Love (15 points, 16 rebounds), and JR Smith, who had 12 points.

Did we mention the Cavs played without their best interior defender, Tristan Thompson, who has a thumb problem?

Now, Lue can start resting his start players in earnest.  With a back-to-back situation on the road on Sunday and Monday (Atlanta then Miami), we would expect James, Irving, and Love to sit in one of those games, and if Wednesday’s regular season finale is inconsequential, which is probably will be, the “Big Three” won’t play in that one either.

Assuming they miss the Monday game vs. the Heat, that would give the trio about a full week off before the post-season begins at Quicken Loans Arena.

We aren’t going overboard about the win last night.  The fact is, it isn’t good enough to play with that kind of intensity for one night during the playoffs, it has to be done every night.

On the other hand, after the shaky month of March, it was good to see the Cavaliers approach a “big” regular season with a determined approach and the result was tremendous.

It shows the Cavs can still play like champions, they still have it in them.

Remember, this is a veteran team.  Cleveland is much more experienced than either Golden State and/or San Antonio.  Perhaps they know how to treat the dog days of the post All Star break schedule, saving energy for the playoff run.

We will find that out very, very soon.

JK

 

Is Kyrie’s Passing The Key To Cavs’ Success?

There is no question that the best player on the roster of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and for that matter, the entire NBA is LeBron James.

However, you can a very good case that when Kyrie Irving plays at a superstar level, that’s when Cleveland becomes one of the best teams in the league.

The Cavs got off to a tremendous start in 2016-17, heading into the new year with a 25-7 record.

Irving was very efficient in those months, scoring around 24 points per game and taking around 18-19 shots on average.

In December, the wine and gold went 12-4, their best month of the season, and Irving was incredible, averaging 23.2 points and 7.8 assists per game.

In one seven game stretch toward the end of the month, the 25-year-old had 10 or more assists five times, while scoring over 20 points in the same number of games.

However, January saw the beginning of the malaise that has enveloped the Cavs for the last three months.  The team went 7-8 during the first month of the year, and while Irving averaged 25 points per game during those 15 games, his assists numbers dropped to 5.2, and only two games with more than seven dimes.

His shots per game increased as well, going from around 18.5 in November and December to almost 21 in January.

The Cavaliers’ ship righted itself in February going 9-2, and coincidentally, Irving became more of a passer again, averaging 7.1 assists a night (six games with more than five), although the shots were up again at a little over 21 a game.

Kyrie didn’t shoot well from the three point line in February, making just 32% of his long range shots.  He was close to 40% up to that point.

Then came March, the worst month record wise for the Cavs since James returned to the team at 7-10.

Irving’s scoring was up (27.0) and his shooting was very good (almost 50% from the floor and 44% from long range), but his assists totals were down to under five per contest (4.8).

The former first overall pick had six games where he had more than five assists during March, and the Cavs went 5-1 in those games.  That means when Irving had less than five, Cleveland went 2-9.

Now, there can be many reasons for Irving’s assist totals to be down, one of them logically being his teammates not making as many shots as they were earlier in the year.

When you lose JR Smith for 10 weeks and Kevin Love for five, two of the Cavaliers’ better shooters, your assist totals could take a dive.  And there is no question, Irving tried to pick up the scoring slack from the absence of those two players.

However, in watching the games, the ball movement that was a trademark early in the season is no longer there.  There is simply too much isolation ball, and too much dribbling by Cleveland players.

We would also like to see Deron Williams be the playmaker when he and Irving are in the game together.  Williams seems to be deferring to Irving, dribbling the ball across the time line and then giving it to Kyrie right away, instead of letting Irving be the scorer in that lineup.

Perhaps Irving should be more particular as to when he needs to carry the entire burden of the offense, and spend time earlier in games getting the other players going.  Outside of the “Big Three” (and the Cavs do that with Love in the first quarter), the rest of the team is struggling.

Maybe getting them some good early looks will get them into a good rhythm.

But it is clear when Kyrie Irving’s assist numbers are up, the Cleveland Cavaliers win more often.

Another thing to look at for the rest of the season and into the playoffs.

JK

 

What Needs To Be Done To Fix Cavs’ D

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.

JK