The Cavs are so reliant on defense in current situation, which is tough

Jarrett Allen, Cleveland Cavaliers. (Photo by David Richard-USA TODAY Sports)
Jarrett Allen, Cleveland Cavaliers. (Photo by David Richard-USA TODAY Sports) /

In general, the Cleveland Cavaliers‘ success this season has been largely predicated on their defensive efforts.

The Cavaliers are fourth in the league this year in defensive rating, as the likes of Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen are quite the tandem of erasers and are a heck of a shot-contesting/altering duo.

Isaac Okoro has often supplied big-time perimeter defense, and other guys such as Dean Wade, Lamar Stevens (when he’s given the opportunities) and even Lauri Markkanen and Cedi Osman, to some degree, have helped from a team defensive standpoint. Brandon Goodwin has done decently when he’s been in there with point-of-attack play against opposing primary playmakers, too, and his play in passing lanes has helped.

That being said, dating back to before the All-Star break, and in three of the Cavaliers’ four games since coming back from that, their defense has not been nearly up to the standard they’ve played at for much of the season thus far.

Among teams in their last seven games, the Cavs are just 24th in defensive rating in that span with a mark of 116.3. The Cavaliers are 2-5 in those games, and they are 22nd in net rating in that stretch (minus-5.7).

Now, part of the reason for some of that has been Cleveland being without key shot creators and/or playmakers in recent games, as Darius Garland (back soreness) missed the first three post-All-Star break contests, and Caris LeVert (foot sprain) has missed all four of those. Rajon Rondo has missed Cleveland’s past three with a big toe sprain.

With the absence of those guys, in a batch of these games of late, it hasn’t helped offensively, and there’s been an abundance of live-ball turnovers, so that’s put the defense in a bind.

Garland was back in the Cavaliers blowout loss to the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday, and did play well as a scorer, but with offensive mix-ups in several games recently for the team, whether or not they’ve been somewhat injury-related, this team can’t keep shooting themselves in the foot. Garland did have seven turnovers, for what it’s worth.

The live-ball giveaways are one that will really hurt for the team in general. Those have compromised the defense too much lately, and at the moment, and even as they get healthier, hopefully, the Cavs have to put themselves in better positions for their defense so they’re not reliant on continual comeback efforts.

The Cavs are so reliant on their defense in their current situation, which has made it very tough, particularly with their offense not doing that end any favors.

With Cleveland being so thin on shot creation and the playmaking not being near what it was earlier, whether or not Garland is in, the Cavs are naturally going to have some offensive lulls.

Now, the team still does have capable ball-movers at big spots, and Jarrett Allen has shown progression as a passer this season, so it’s not as if the Cavaliers can’t get themselves good possessions and quality looks. We’ve still seen that in stretches, and if Lauri Markkanen can establish more of a rhythm as he gets more comfortable, that’ll help Evan Mobley, who has seen some of a decline post-All-Star break in production.

In any case, what is apparent for Cleveland is that the club needs to just have guys focus on what they can control, as at times, while I have to cut him some slack, Cedi Osman is doing too much, and here and there, guys are forcing feeds that aren’t there.

That’s played into Cleveland, regardless of their turnover concerns throughout the season, largely due to constant lineup change, having the second-highest turnover rate in the last seven games leaguewide (15.6 percent). And in that span, the Cavs are conceding the most opponent points off turnovers (21.6 per game). They’ve given up the third-most per outing this season in that area, but in this current situation, this issue has been amplified, and it’s hampered Cleveland’s chances of either cutting into or establishing leads.

If the Wine and Gold are patient, they should still be able to generate good looks in mid-to-late clock situations getting the ball to their bigs, collapsing defenses, and in other areas, still be able to generate some drive-and-kicks, and then ball-swings. Garland’s scoring presence will help, too, and even Goodwin has helped give this team a playmaking lift.

Taking everything into account, however, even with this Cavs squad being a defensive team overall, right now, it’s paramount for Cleveland to stay the course in games, and given their injury issues of late, they at least have to help their defense by cutting down on live-ball giveaways.

And if they can have more urgency possession-to-possession on offense, the club can remain afloat until LeVert gets back, and keep pressing onward to get out of this rut they find themselves in. We’ve seen this team overcome obstacles time and time again this season, and they’ve shown they can come back, as they almost came all the way back on Monday against the Minnesota Timberwolves from 23 down in the third quarter sans Garland.

But to reiterate, in their current situation, with them largely very reliant on their set defense and that being a key source of momentum, and the offense coming along as games progress, the Cavs need to avoid these at times awful starts or extended stretches.

Their defense has slipped in recent weeks, and I understand there’s going to be rough batches of contests in that realm.

They just have to not exascerbate things from having too many possessions early on where their defense becomes more compromised, and then stuff snowballs. If the Cavs can get back to big-to-big play, productive dribble handoffs, and then find ways to get some cross-matching, then they can generate more sustainable play offensively.

Next. 2 studs and 2 duds from Cavs past two losses to Wolves and Hornets. dark

Hopefully we’ll see that soon enough, and they can get LeVert and/or Rondo back next week.