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Cleveland Still Sorting Things Out

Cavs 30-game Recap

Chad W. Lutz
​Reports have been swirling since late last night and on into this morning that there is a growing divide between Cavs head coach David Blatt and his players. Most sources cite Blatt's vehement denials that the team is out of sorts and on as many different pages as there are fans in the stands on any given night. After Sunday's loss to Detroit at home, in which the Bad Guys sunk 17 three-pointers en route to an otherwise improbable 103-80 victory, Blatt said: "We just didn't play well. I don't think it was an issue outside of that. A couple games ago we were (17-10). I know some other pretty good teams in the NBA that didn't have that record." Going into the contest against the Pistons, the opposing team held a record of 6-23.

According to Brian Windhorst at ESPN, Blatt "has the attention" of the players, including stars Lebron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love. Both Irving and James have been playing the 12-step game, as well, and deny any sort of personal feuding with coaches. Lebron mentioned in the same December 29 ESPN article that: "I think my relationship with the coach continues to get better and better every day." Both Blatt and James understand the magnitude and scope of the season. They've only been a unit for two months and there are still kinks to work out in the game plans moving forward.

Good. This is exactly the mindset you want from both coaches and players invested in winning. The storyline for the entire Cavaliers' season up to this point has been We're New Here, Don't Sue Us. And you know, I don't think you can. At least not yet, at any rate. But now that we've reached the thirty-game plateau, I think it's fair that people are starting to ask harder questions and expect more from this team.
Head coach David Blatt looks on during summer league practice. Blatt, Lebron, Kyrie, and other players deny the allegations of bad leadership (www.nytimes.com)
​It's one thing to lose. It happens. It's unavoidable, regardless of what sport you're playing. Losing is about as indifferent to existence as weather, and it most definitely (and obviously) extends outside of the world of competitive sports. Going into the season, I don't think anyone thought the Cavaliers were going to go 82-0. That would be ridiculous. In the entire history of the NBA, only the 95-96 Bulls have even come close to winning every game and they were still ten wins off the mark when that season was all said and done. The Cavs are going to lose, but the issue isn't whether or not they will, the issue is how they're losing. And I believe it's cause for concern.

After sweeping through an eight-game winning streak earlier this month that was brought to an end with a loss to Oklahoma City on the 11th, the Cavaliers have since gone 5-5. Lebron sat out the game against the Thunder due to soreness in his left knee, and it looked as if Kyrie was going to miss the rest of that contest with a contusion suffered late in the second quarter when he banged knees with Russell Westbrook coming down after shooting a jumper. That shit hurts. So much so that Kyrie has sat out the last two games against Orlando on Friday and the abysmal beating the Pistons put to us two days ago. Kyrie is our second leading scorer (20.2ppg) and has shown signs of becoming an improved defender, and if he played Sunday, did we stand a better chance of winning? Absolutely. But the issues the Cavaliers are facing aren't on the offensive sides of the ball or at the point guard position.

The Wine and Gold have been struggling with defense all season long. From the opening act against the Knicks (who have still only won five games) on October 30 to the recent blowout suffered at the hands of Detroit, the Cavs have been lackadaisical on the defensive end. While Cleveland has a positive plus-minus differential between points scored and points allowed, it's not by much (102.2 - 99.4). It's a fairly deceptive statistic, especially when you consider the Cavs are still six games above .500 and sit fifth in the Eastern Conference Playoff Picture. Looks pretty on paper. But that's about as far as it goes.

In the Cavs' twelve losses, there have been four occasions in which the Good Guys have been beaten badly. And not just bad, but skewered and put on display in the town square as an example for any would-be rabble-rousers. Absolutely decimated. The games I'm referring to include the 110-82 loss to Portland on November 4, the 110-93 home thrashing by the Toronto Raptors on November 22, the hopefully forgettable twenty-nine-point hurt Atlanta put on the Wine and Gold a couple of weeks ago on December 17 by a score of 127-98, and then we have the recent beating by the Pistons.
Brandon Jennings went 5-9 from downtown and 10-18 in the field to finish with 25 points against the Cavs during the 103-80 loss at home 12/28.
(www.newslocker.com)
​The Cavs look beyond lost in those four maulings. I don't know if there's a word for it, but it certainly isn't competitive. No, you're not supposed to win every game, but you're supposed to play that way. Many of our players don't even look like they're playing hoops when momentum or the scoreboard shifts. James will make a bad pass and then hang his head and sulk while the other team sprints towards the other end of the court with the ball. Even if it isn't James himself making errant or just plain ugly plays, watch the TV and tell me if you don't see No. 23 react as if someone just called the entire game in favor of the other team.

What that kind of attitude does this permeate into every other aspect of the game? Defense breaks down, the offense gets sloppy, teammates stop sharing the ball, and the competitive edge the Cavs are supposed to have over opponents disappears. How motivated would you be if your boss just shook his head and walked away every time you made a mistake? If you've been watching the Cavs closely, odds are you've seen some fairly uncharacteristic body language out of the two-time champion and four-time MVP. And you've probably seen some all-too-familiar flopping and ref-hounding developed during his days in Miami. Unfortunately for James and the Cavaliers, we aren't going to win games lying on the ground or lobbying for calls from the whistle-bearing zebras.

Our very own Uncle Drew puts it best, "It's all about buckets." Where are those chase-down blocks? Where are those relentless drives to the basket? Has Father Time seriously caught up with the stars we;ve rested our laurels on? I don't think so. I think a lot of the Cavs' issues have to do with focus and trust, not some locker-room feud between players and coaches. Mike Miller still appears to be firing on all cylinders, despite being concussed a few weeks ago against the Knicks. Sean Marion, too. We're going to win by hustling on every play for forty-eight minutes every single contest, no matter what happens, not by settling for contested outside jump shots or passing into heavy traffic at every possible opportunity. Do that, and I feel like fifteen-point blow outs won't be as commonplace as they have been.

As far as David Blatt and job security are concerned, I think his job is safe. It's been absolutely no secret that sports media outlets love Lebron and constantly want to keep him at the center of attention. They'll jump all over the Cavs and create any story they can to keep him in the spotlight, even if it's negative. Lebron even understands this and said so as much in the Brian Windhorst/Marc Stein article published yesterday: "…to make it a feud between me and Blatt or the team and Blatt is just to sell. It's just to sell and get people to read it and put something on the bottom of the ticker. That's all it is."

Perhaps that is all it is. I think so. But we need to get our focus back on making baskets and effectively defending against other teams. If we do that, we should have as much or more success as we've already enjoyed, and without giving up seventeen three-pointers to teams with six or fewer victories.