The Cleveland Cavaliers had a rocky start to the season, driven in large part because of injuries to key players. With the main rotation healthy, this past week should have been an opportunity for this team to get back on track.
Instead, Cleveland went 1-2 to start their four-game road trip, dropping them to 4-6 to behind the year. That’s obviously not where this team hoped to be as they try to take a step up in the Eastern Conference. It’s far from a death sentence, but hopefully it will be a wake-up call.
Their game against the Sacramento Kings was particularly concerning, as they seemed wholly incapable of keeping pace with a dynamic Kings offense, especially playing without Isaac Okoro. Sacramento had four players score 20 or more points on Monday night in a 132-120 victory. The Cavs only gave up that many points three times all of last season.
The Cavaliers will have one more shot at a victory on this road trip on Wednesday night in Portland, then return home hoping to start building momentum and climb back up the standings. What else happened in the last week? Let’s dig in with the latest edition of Cavs News.
Last season, the Cavaliers finished with the best defensive rating in the league, allowing just 110.6 points per 100 possessions. This season they are allowing 114.4 points per 100, a significant step back. What’s more, other teams are playing much better on defense, including the Minnesota Timberwolves and their league-leading 101.9 defensive rating.
That puts the Cavaliers all the way back in 19th defensively, a truly horrendous showing for a team that was supposed to establish its identity on that end. Some of that drop can be attributed to the absence of Jarrett Allen to start the season, but he was back for losses to the Indiana Pacers and Sacramento Kings that were largely defensive losses.
Last season, per Cleaning the Glass, the Cavaliers had a defensive rating of 110.7 when Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley shared the court. This year that number stands at 115.8, in just the 32nd percentile leaguewide. They are allowing opponents to rebound 41.7 percent of their missed shots, the worst mark in the league; last year they allowed just 25 percent, in the 81st percentile in the league. That’s a massive swing.
The entire reason to start two defensive bigs is for them to defend at a high level, and that’s simply not been the case to start the year. The longer this continues, the more questions will be raised about whether the two-big look is the best option for the Cavaliers moving forward.
One bright spot recently has been the Cavaliers’ sweep of the Golden State Warriors. After not winning a regular season game against the Warriors in seven years, Cleveland notched two victories in a week. They made the would-be contenders look old and small, unable to penetrate the paint and forced to chuck up contested 3-pointers.
The Warriors themselves have wobbled a bit of late, but they are 6-3 in games played against teams other than the Cavaliers and 0-2 against Cleveland. The size and length of the Cavs was too much for the Warriors; now the Cavs need to find a way to translate that success to the rest of their schedule.
The Cavaliers have needed Caris LeVert to step up this season on both ends of the court, whether filling in for Darius Garland on offense or Isaac Okoro on defense. He is having a strong start to the year, both validating the new contract that the Cavs gave to him this summer and raising his potential trade value.
He was particularly potent against the Warriors, scoring 22 points to go with five rebounds, three assists and four steals; he finished +23 in an eight-point win. The game before, a loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, LeVert got to the line for 16 free-throw attempts. Against the Kings he had 21 points on an efficient 7-for-13 from the field and 5-for-6 from the stripe.
LeVert isn’t an ideal fit next to both Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell, but he is playing hard on defense and finding a way to thrive on the margins. He deserves credit for doing everything asked of him.
- Matt Issa on Basketball Insiders looked at the impact of Max Strus and Georges Niang on the Cavaliers’ offense, providing hope for how things can improve moving forward
- Caleb Crowley did his Weekly Roundup of the Cavaliers, digging into their standing in the East and handing out his “Crowley Crowns” to the top performers on the team.
- How are Cleveland’s alumni doing? Here are four former Cavs thriving elsewhere, and five off to a rocky start.
- Dan Gilinsky looks at one particular way that Caris LeVert has been so successful to start the year, and why it can continue.
The Cavaliers play the Portland Trail Blazers in Oregon at 10:00 PM ET Wednesday night to close out their road trip. Then it’s back home for a Friday game against the Detroit Pistons, the Cavs’ second In-Season Tournament Game. If they lose Friday they are effectively eliminated, so it’s their first “must-win” of the season.