The Cavs had a horrible March by their standards…is this just another deliberate plot by Lebron, or something to be concerned about?
Once again, Cavaliers and NBA fans alike find themselves doubting the ability of Lebron James to bring his team to glory. After going 7 – 10 in March, by far the worst stretch of this season for Cleveland, worry is beginning to set in. This has become fairly routine for us who have followed him from Cleveland, to Miami and back. It is now time for the annual “does-(insert team name)-suck-or-is-this-some-deliberate-plot-from-the-almighty-King-James?” questions to start echoing from every sports network in the nation. For a man who has led his team to six straight NBA finals, James sure knows how to put a scare into the hearts of gamblers.
Lebron reaches another level of ability in the deep playoffs (see 2012-2016 NBA Finals statistics) and likewise, reaches a new level of pettiness. This is peak LeBron James. A man who is not only at his most dominant, but who wants to make you wish you decided to play soccer as a teen.
He has not been afraid to criticize the ability of those around him, or leave for greener pastures (or demand for Dan Gilbert to make the greener pastures to come to him). Previously this year, he asked for a playmaker. He got Kyle Korver, 32-year-old Deron Williams, and former Warrior Andrew Bogut, who lasted 57 seconds before breaking his leg. Since the All-Star break, the defense has been lackadaisical, 29th in the league, in fact. They’re allowing 113.7 points per 100 possessions in March. In comparison, the top two teams in the West, and likely Finals competitors the Warriors and Spurs, are at 99.3 and 100.5 respectively.
Not only are the Cavs title hopes being threatened, but also their top spot in the East. Lebron critics often point out how easy it is for him to make the NBA finals, only having to deal with the easier Eastern Conference. But in fact, Lebron has only ever taken the 1-seed 4 times in his career. Granted, that’s more than most players will in their entire careers. But after making the Finals six straight years, a 2-seed finish is surprisingly run-of-the-mill for his teams.
Aside from Lebron, the Cavs have been altogether horrendous this month. Kyrie Irving’s scoring ability has been showcased on more than one occasion this half of the season, having several 30+ point games in the last month. But defensively, he has yet to prove that he can stick with a player of any offensive talent. Kyrie is not known for his defense, but Lebron James is. So is Iman Shumpert, who has had a lackluster month defensively, and the Cavaliers have been better with him off the court. Richard Jefferson has been a revelation for Cleveland in the past, considering his age (and no one loves seeing an old NBA player ball as much as me). Look at RJ obliterate Terry Rozier back on March 1. The disrespect.
Unfortunately, players over 30 don’t get extra points for momentarily destroying a young man’s career. Jefferson may be saving his defensive effort for games 6 and 7 of the NBA Finals, as he played a major role in bringing a title to Cleveland; but for now, he’s a shell of that player we saw in the Finals.
Tyronn Lue’s problem at the moment is depth. When the starters get tired, he cannot send out a lineup of Deron Williams, Shumpert, Korver, Jefferson and Frye with good conscience. Rather, he must trade some offensive explosiveness for a bit of good ol’ fashion toughness. Yes, we’ve seen the Cavaliers transform into a team that launches threes like nobody’s business, even more than Golden State and the Splash Brothers. They must be willing to trade some of that for defense. Yes, J.R. Smith’s pride may be wounded in the process, but it will be necessary if they are to face Golden State in the finals, the greatest assembly of talent on a basketball court in the league. The matchup for Cleveland would be frightening. I shudder to think of JR Smith trying to keep up with Klay Thompson, or Channing Frye stepping out to defend a Steph-KD pick n’ roll.
For the record, here’s Coach Panzeca’s Cleveland lineup. Let’s assume we’re playing against Golden State again, but not much would change if we were playing San Antonio or Houston.
PG – Kyrie Irving: Obvious choice, this is the man who owned Stephen Curry in almost every way in last year’s finals. He isn’t a good defender, but he has Steph’s number, and I don’t think Steph very much enjoys staring into the face of the man that drilled the game winner in his face, in front of all of the Bay Area’s horrified eyes last year.
SG – Iman Shumpert: This is the toughest one. I love watching J.R Smith launch the most ridiculous “get-the-fu**-out-of-here-J.R-you-S.O.B-also-put-a-shirt-on” threes. He has the unnatural confidence that only Dion Waiters can rival. But in a lot of ways, that can be a detriment to a championship team. Remember when he walked off the court in the middle of a defensive position to say “hi” to Jason Terry? I have to go with Shumpert, despite his recent struggles he’s the vastly superior defender, and I trust him switching onto numerous Warriors players.
SF – Richard Jefferson: If I’m playing the Warriors, it must be the NBA Finals, which means RJ has been conserving his energy and doing yoga and sh**.
I’m counting on him to help shut down the Splash Brothers on the wings, and body the hell out of Andre Iguodala when the Warriors go small. Jefferson could be the key during crunch time.
PF – Lebron James: “Give me Lebron or give me death” – U.S. founding father, 1775.
C – Tristan Thompson: He’s dating a Kardashian, which may be the only thing I don’t like about this guy’s game. Lebron recently blamed the “Kardashian Curse” on their recent struggles. But Thompson can clean up on the glass, and isn’t afraid to foul…hard.
The Cavs don’t match up great against Golden State, but this is the best chance they have. They also have the best player in the league, which helps. When Cleveland beats the best of the West, it’s never because they launched the most threes or had more assists. It always comes down to getting stops at the end of the game, and letting Lebron manhandle everyone in his path (except Kawhi…never Kawhi #VotefortheKlaw2020). Personally, I’m rooting against Cleveland. I want a Wizards v. Celtics ECF, which is currently #1 on my NBA playoff wishlist (coming soon). Unlikely, but a guy can dream.