The Cavs are rolling. They have only lost 3 games since the All Star break and one of those games saw LBJ sitting out to rest an injured ankle. To top it all off, they have done it without a true center, with Shaq out until the playoffs and Big Z taking a 1 month “vacation” courtesy of Antawn Jameson.
This year’s Cavs look much stronger than last year’s squad. The bench is much deeper and Cleveland sports winning records against the Celtics, Lakers and Magic this season. They seem to have a match up answer for every team that might get in their way come playoff time.
Still, there is one thing that absolutely terrifies me about the Cavaliers. A great big weakness they exhibit in nearly every game they play but that seldom has light shed upon it. A weakness that isn’t likely to hurt them against teams like Miami, Toronto or Atlanta but that could cripple them in a tight series against the Celtics, Magic, Nuggets or Lakers.
I am talking about their free throw shooting.
The Cavs free throw percentage is terrible. They rank 29th in the league from the line, making just 72.3% of their free throws. Only the Pistons are worse at 71.9%.
Think free throws don’t matter for a team as talented as the Cavaliers? Think again. In their last 4 losses, the Cavaliers were out scored at the free throw line by their opponents 78 to 66. That may not seem like a lot but in close games come playoff time, the Cavs are going to need all the points they can get.
The most staggering example of how this deficiency could harm the Cavaliers in the post season was Cleveland’s 116 to 118 overtime loss to the Denver Nuggets, a team they very well could face in the NBA finals and who they have failed to defeat this season. In that game, the Nuggets out shot the Cavs at the line 80% to 57%, That’s right. In a game the Cavs lost in OT by only 2 points, they shot a pathetic 23 for 40 at the line. In a game where the crowd was wowed by amazing highlight shots from Lebron James and Carmello Anthony, the Cavs got beat when the flashbulbs weren’t shinning, at the free throw line.
Cleavland’s free throw woes don’t look as though they will improve any time soon. Shaq, a notoriously bad free throw shooter is due to come back for the start of the playoffs and since being traded to the Cavs from Washington, Antawn Jameson has gone from shooing 70% at the line to an awful 44%.
It is doubtful Shaq will miraculously pull out of his career long funk and become an 80% free throw shooter so the onus lies on James and Jameson, the other two Cavs likely to draw the most fouls this post season.
Orlando might not be the problem as they aren’t much better than Cleveland at the line (currently ranked 27th in the league at 72.7 %) but it may be in the Finals where the Cavs are likely to face either LA (12 in the league at 77.1%), Denver (9th in the league at 77.6%) or even Dalls (1st in the league at 81.4%) that the Cavs weak free throw shooting could come back to bite them in the behind.
If I were Lebron and the Cavs I’d start practicing free throws after practice instead of half court shots or they may soon find that their biggest threat, is themselves.