Sports Page

Playing The Odds

20-game Recap

Chad W. Lutz
The NBA schedule is long, arduous, and trying. Compared to other sports like football, and even the college incarnate of hoops, the modern NBA season puts players through 36 grueling weeks of basketball. For some teams, this plays out in Cinderella fashion. Slow starts don’t always mean the dagger is dug and there for good. As much as I personally hate them, the Los Angeles Lakers last season opitmized a team's ability to take advantage of the long NBA schedule. The current season rubric, which translates to nearly nine months of games including the playoffs, allows for mistakes to be made, mishaps and in-fighting to occur, injuries to claim players and for those players to rebound and make combacks, and even resolve to fold, with with enough time, especially in the early going, to turn everything around and make a final playoff push.

Basketball in Cleveland has lived that mindset and ridden the small but ever-present glimmers of hope generated by an 82-game schedule like a magic carpet in search of gilded treasure for the last three and a quarter years. Each time the team sees a little improvement we begin to wonder if this is it; that maybe we’ll wake up and see the same Cavaliers we see in wins, the same congealing defenses and offenses, the same resolve take the court again in the next contest, instead of the Jekyll and Hyde performances of our Wine and Gold rosters since The Decision.

Even though it’s tough to admit, that’s exactly how the Cavs have played so far this season. At the 20-game marker, Cleveland sits ninth in the Eastern Conference at 7-13, fresh off of an 88-82 victory against the currently fourth-seeded Los Angeles Clippers at home last night. The win capped a recent spurt of consistency for the Cavaliers, who have now won three of their last four games. Their 7-13 record puts them only two games out of the hunt for a playoff spot, which, if you’re just tuning in, is more or less the litmus test for the Wine and Gold this season.
Andrew Bynum dunks over Carlos Boozer en route to a Cavaliers victory 11/30/2013 (ww.knoxnews.com)
Cleveland averages a miserly 92.5ppg as a team through 20 games, which puts them 27th in the league ahead of only Charlotte (9-11), Utah (4-18), and Milwaukee (4-16). Conversely, the Cavs give up 99.6ppg. This is a pretty familiar swan song for the Mistake by the Lake. But all is not Edmund Fitzgerald. Compare their play over the last four contests, and those small glimmers afforded by 82-game schedules begin to look a little less like mirages and more like actual bounty on the horizons. The Cavs averaged right around their seasonal effort in terms of points scored per game but gave up only 92.7 points over each of the last four contests.

The real indicator of whether or not the Cavaliers have actually made serious adjustments and long-term improvements is consistency. We’ve seen bouts like this before. Last season, the Cavaliers went on a three-game win streak toward the end of January followed by another three-game streak during early February, which also featured two additional win streaks of dos a piece. But then the shit hit the proverbial fan; Cleveland dropped ten-straight in March and ultimately limped off the court to end their season with a six-game losing streak. But it’s still early in the season, and while we’ve heard that before, it still doesn’t make it any less accurate or true. The Cavaliers have a time span nearly the length of the entire 2011-2012 season left (62 games), which is more than enough time to make up any ground that might stand between them and a playoff spot, and especially with the embarrassing way the Eastern Conference is playing this season, with the only real exceptions being Miami and Indiana.
Tristan Thompson during arguably his best outting as a Cavalier against Denver 12/4/2013
(www.nba.com)
The difference between games 1-10 and games 11-20 appears to be the increased incorporation of the three big men the Cavaliers have at their disposal. Andrew Bynum, Tristan Thompson, and Anderson Varejao are playing inspired ball, and that’s an understatement. Bynum put up one of the best performances of his young career against the Bulls Saturday, November 30, with a 20-point, 10-rebound, 5-block effort. Bynum continued to post solid numbers against Denver four nights later with 14 points and 7 rebounds. However, the hero of the win over Denver was Tristan Thompson, who absolutely swallowed the boards, nabbing 9 in the first quarter alone and ending the contest with an insane 21 total rebounds and 3 blocked shots with 17 points. The same game, Anderson Varejao put on his own mini clinic with an 18 and 13 performance. Kyrie Irving led all scorers with 23 and dished 4 assists.

What the Cavs still need to figure out is how to win on the road. And herein lies the real Jekyll. The Cavs are one of six teams in the East who have six wins or more at home (6-3) but are the league’s worst team when it comes to performing on the road (1-10). If the changes in rotation and emphasis on using our bigs more is the first step in the right direction, winning on the road is the next logical progression for the Cavs this season. We’re 4-6 over our last ten, with wins over top-seeded Western Conference teams in the last week. We’re 7-13 overall, which isn’t good, but it isn’t terrible either. We just have to see where this magic carpet takes us and hope the odds created by the lengthy NBA schedule play out in our favor.