A Long Way To Go

Chad W. Lutz
With the All-Star break now six games in the rear view, the Cleveland Cavaliers look to make a final push for the playoffs in the team’s final twenty-nine games. To do so, the Cavs may need to elicit a miracle or two. Coming into the game against Denver on March 7, the Wine and Gold were on a six-game slide; finding themselves seventeen games in back of Chicago for the division lead and three games behind the New York Knicks for the eighth seed.

Leading up to All-Star weekend, the Cavs had won three of five and picked up big wins against the Clippers, Indiana, and Detroit. Kyrie Irving won the Rookie of the Month award for January, Antawn Jamison began playing like an All-Star again, and the team as a whole was approaching .500 status. Then the wheels fell off.

Unable to mount a substantial run against the Hornets, the Cavaliers were handed their 18th loss of the season going into the All-Star break. Coming back off All-Star weekend, Kyrie Irving and Co. faced the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks; two teams the Cavaliers had beaten at least once previously in the season, but were ahead in the standings for the 7th and 8th seeds in the East. The Cavaliers went on to drop both contests to the Eastern Conference rivals and the next three games, as well. All of a sudden, you look up and the Cavs are losers of six straight with Denver and Oklahoma City next up on the schedule.
Antawn Jameson dribbles past Celtic PF Kevin Garnett in an 86-83 loss at the Q on Feb. 28
(David Liam Kyle/NBA/Getty Images)
Sometimes fate seems oddly cruel to Cleveland. After putting on a show and representing the City by the Lake with pride in Orlando during the All-Star festivities, the Cavaliers dropped the next five games; and in all-too-typical Cleveland fashion. Boston was able to squeak away with a victory behind Ray Allen’s hot hand 86-83. The next night in New York proved absolutely disastrous. Up 61-49 at the half, Cleveland somehow fell asleep behind the basketball wheel and allowed the New York Knicks to cap off a come-from-behind effort with a 120-103 win.

The next two games weren’t any better. After spanking the Wine and Gold 114-75 back on January 20, Chicago dished out another thrashing and handed the Cavaliers a 112-91 home loss for their fourth “L” in a row last Friday, March 2. The very next night the Cavs faced the seven-win Wizards in D.C. and in similar form to the New York game, gave up a ten-point lead to lose 101-98.

What started out as a promising, if not surprising, season now looks like a scene from Cliffhanger. It’s almost too hard to watch. The loss of Anderson Varejao on February 11 still stings as bad as the big man’s hand probably did the night he was hacked by former Cavalier Drew Gooden. Now we’re left to wonder if Andy’s presence would have had enough of an impact to push the Cavaliers over the hump. Byron Scott has tried three different men in the center position, with Tristan Thompson getting the majority of minutes as C. But it appears Scott still doesn’t have enough confidence in Tristan to start him and, instead, goes with Semih Erden or the ever-clueless Ryan Hollins at the start, only to leave us missing Andy more and more every time the final horn sounds.
Anderson Varejao stares down what possibly could be a season-ending injury
Neither Erden or Hollins show potential for a true starter (much less a reserve) and only occasionally show up to play. The pitiful showing Hollins displayed against Denver is more than evidence enough. Thompson, too, has had his share of woe since his shining performance at the All-Star BBVA Rising Stars Challenge. During the miserable loss to Washington, Thompson was blocked, not once, not twice, but on three separate occasions as he went for face-up dunks.

On Friday, the Cavs faced the number one team in the NBA, the Oklahoma City Thunder, in Oklahoma City, a place where only one other team had won all season, and showed just that, energy the whole contest. Never trailing by more than five points the entire game, Cleveland hung around long enough to take the lead with under two minutes to go and never looked back. The Cavs out rebounded the Thunder 51-40 and made key shots down the stretch; showing signs of the energy and vigor we saw early in the season and more recently seen dwindle against opponents far less imposing than the Thunder or Nuggets.

The Cavaliers (15-23) may either need to make a move for a big man (Dwight Howard?) or come to terms they may spend the rest of the season without their favorite energy-man in curls and continue to make the necessary adjustments seen against Denver and OKC. It’ll be interesting to see how the Wine and Gold finish out the rest of the 2011-2012 campaign. I wouldn’t hold my breath on making the playoffs just yet, but I wouldn’t count the Cavaliers out completely either.