Back to Back and Back on Track?

Chad W. Lutz
While Christmas Day traditionally falls on December 25, and has for ages, the holiday season started a little early for the Wine and Gold. On December 11, after nearly two and a half weeks without star point guard Kyrie Irving, doctors gave the second-year phenom the OK-to-go and cleared him for play for a game against the Los Angeles Lakers. At the time, the Lakers were in the midst of a soon-to-be 5-game losing streak and were playing their worst basketball, arguably, in decades. Whether that helped the Cavs or played non-factor, Cleveland outworked, outmuscled and outhustled Los Angeles to walk away with a convincing 100-94 W at home.

Now, there was a time when I used to think the Cavaliers could walk away with a W against any opponent in the NBA. It didn't matter the night, if the Cavs were fit to play and played their style of basketball, a W was inevitable. Well, now 30 games deep into the Cavaliers season, I've been rethinking that mentality, for sake of my own sanity. Owners of an abysmal 7-23 record, I, like many other Cavs' fans, don't understand where things went wrong. In true, end-of-year style, I've compiled a list of the Top 5 reasons why the Wine and Gold hold one of the worst records in the NBA.

5.) Injury

It began over the summer when a boastful Kyrie Irving showed up the Olympic squad and celebrated by hitting his right hand against a padded wall just a little too hard. The result was a cast and six weeks of rehab. Kyrie, however, was ready and raring to go for the season opener against Washington on October 30. The entire team was, actually. But that was pretty short-lived. Against the Clippers on November 5, Anderson Varejao bruised his right knee and rookie Tyler Zeller received an elbow to the face from DeAndre Jordan that resulted in the first of many facemasks sported by Cavaliers players. Zeller would be inactive for the next few games due to a comorbid concussion caused by the blow to the face along with a fractured cheekbone.

The Cavs injury woes would continue December 17 against the Dallas Mavericks as Daniel Gibson bruised his right elbow and Kyrie Irving broke yet another bone, this time his left index finger. The very next night in Philadelphia, Tristan Thompson earned his facemask, his in the form of a nasal fracture, one day after Zeller returned to the lineup.

The saga continued when Dion Waiters suffered a sprained left ankle going for a rebound late in the 4th quarter against Portland on December 1. Waiters missed 8 games due to the sprain, which left the Cavaliers without the highest combined scoring backcourt in the NBA. Irving would later return on the 11th as mentioned earlier, but would earn his own facemask against the Bucks three nights later, giving rise to the 41-point Dark Knight performance against the Knicks December 8.

Collage of Cavalier corrective orthopedics.
To make matters worse, just when the Cavaliers starting five began to gain some traction and string a few games together as a solid unit, Anderson Varejao came down hard on his right knee against the Raptors on December 18. Varejao would finish the game, but has sat out the last 4 contests. Coach Byron Scott insists on stalling Andy's return as long as possible to ensure full recovery before allowing the NBA's current rebounding leader back in action. Alonzo Gee and Tristan Thompson, despite the nasal fracture, are the only Cavs starters to play every game this season.

4.) The Pine

About a month ago, I was ready to board up every Cavaliers bench player and ship them to some unknown, Indonesian island for better or worse and let them fend for themselves. And why not? The Cavs bench let the starting five basically fend for themselves up until a couple weeks ago. Over the first 20 games, C.J. Miles averaged only 6.5ppg. Since then, the reserve shooting guard has been slinging fire and averaged 15.0ppg over the last 10 games, including back-to-back 28-point performances coming against the Lakers and Indiana in early December.
There's a reason you're wearing your warm-ups in the 4th quarter, boys. (
But a few good games for C.J. Miles aren't going to solve the Wine and Gold bench woes. As a collective, Cleveland ranks 29th in the league in bench scoring at 25 points per contest. Inconsistent at best, it's like night and day whenever the reserves enter the game, most notably highlighted during the almost unmentionable loss to Phoenix November 9 in which the Cavaliers led by as many as 26 in the first half and then proceeded to lose by 2 points. The same travesty occurred against Brooklyn on November 13 and against Miami on November 24. Night and day, night and day. Additional fun facts: the Cavaliers bench shoots a league-worst 37.5% from the field and only 66.1% from the stripe on the season.

3.) Omri Casspi

While I understand he's the pride of the Middle East, Omri Casspi is one of the worst basketball players to ever play the game. Night after night, whenever I see Omri standing at the scorer's table about to check in, I can literally feel the beginnings of a tumor forming in my frontal lobe. From making errant and completely bonehead passes to missing wide open layups, hustling for all the wrong reasons, rebounding to the other team, and shooting from his hip like a fifth grader, Omri Casspi confounds and dumbfounds and has put up some of the worst numbers on the season for the Wine and Gold. In 13.3mpg, Omri posts an average 4.9 points, 2.5 rebounds and 0.5 assists. His court awareness is about that of a blind cocker spaniel and his basketball I.Q. rivals most babies. The regular use of Casspi by Byron Scott only adds insult to the injury he brings to the team night in and night out.
Exhibit A: The kind of defense Casspi is known for, watching with a look of absolute astonishment as opponents blow right on by. (
2.) (In)Consistency

Wouldn't it be a perfect world if, every night, the Cavaliers went out and played hard for all 4 quarters? What if they gobbled up rebounds, took advantage of turnovers, hung on to the basketball, controlled the tempo of the game, and made good decisions all around? What a wonderful world that might be. But, we in Cavslandia do not live in such a world, and we haven't claimed to since 1970. Although more prevalent now maybe than ever, inconsistency continues to consistently kill the Cavaliers. In 7 wins, Cleveland has scored an average of 98.2ppg and held opponents to 91.2 points per contest. Conversely, in 23 losses, the Wine and Gold average a bottom-feeding 92.2ppg and give up 101.5ppg. The Cavaliers stand 15th in the league in rebounds per game despite boasting the best rebounder and rank 5th in turnovers per game. Injuries have made it difficult to establish rhythm and chemistry on the basketball floor, and an erratic, spotty bench, along with irregular rotations, has proven disastrous for the Wine and Gold as, more often than not, most surges and streaks have been doused by their own doing.

This kind of play was most notably highlighted during a would-be comeback against the Celtics December 19. Down 80-60 with 3:16 to go in the 3rd quarter, Kyrie Irving began chipping away at the Celtic lead and Cleveland eventually whittled the double-digit deficit down to 2 points with 9:00min left in the contest 82-80. With 6:00min left in the game Cleveland was down by only 4 points, but a 10-2 Boston run put a damper on any hopes of coming away with a victory as the Cavaliers turned the ball over 4 times and missed 3 crucial free throws, including 2 flagrant foul shot attempts by Tristan Thompson.

The Cavaliers also avoided stringing together consecutive wins dating back to February 21 of last season. In the early onset, wins came in up and down fashion; win won, lose the next, win one, lose the next. Ultimately, Cleveland began to landslide and racked up two 6-game losing streaks, a 4-game losing streak, and a 5-game losing streak. The Wine and Gold did, however, notch back-to-back victories against Milwaukee and D.C. in games 29 and 30. With Eastern Conference playoff potentials Atlanta and Brooklyn on the docket, it will be interesting to see if this recent stretch of consistency will continue.

1.) Coaching

I don't care if Byron Scott won 3 NBA Championships as a player for the Lakers in the mid-80s, or that he coached the New Jersey Nets to an Eastern Conference best 52-30 record in 2001-2002 and a 49-33 record in 2002-2003, both of which resulted in NBA Finals appearances. It doesn't make one bit of difference to me that he played backup to Magic Johnson, or helped Chris Paul blossom as a formidable point guard, or that he even has a hand in the molding of Kyrie Irving into a potential perennial All-Star point guard. None of this matters. At the end of the day, if your team can't play defense, even though you consistently say you stress defense, in interviews; to the media directly following blowouts; and you give up over 100 points per contest, you are not doing your job.

To look at this from a less bias and more practical vantage point, let's take a nod at some numbers. Byron Scott, in his 3 years with the Cavaliers, tallied only 47 wins in 178 games, good for a .264 winning percentage through the first 30 games this season. During those same 3 years, teams have scored an average of 101.3ppg. Granted Scott inherited the upchuck of the Lebron-era. I'll give him that. But to only amass 7 wins with the NBA's leading rebounder and one of the leading scorers in the league is ridiculous and laughable. If the Cavaliers want to have any chance of salvaging this season, they may need to consider getting rid of Byron Scott in exchange for someone who actually stresses offense and defense, instead of a coach that stands quietly on the sidelines and hardly makes any arguments to the referees while his players get hacked to pieces.
Don't act like you didn't see this coming. (
We're nearing the halfway mark in the season. While my crystal ball is a little chinked for wear, all signs are telling me to hang on Cavaliers fans; it's going to be a bumpy ride.