Loose Balls

Chad W. Lutz
It didn’t take long. It didn’t take long at all. With 5:30 left in the first quarter during Friday night’s contest against Minnesota you could tell it was probably going to end up being another one of those games. Like many of the Cavaliers losses as of late, the Wine and Gold let their opponent build an early lead and the found themselves scrapping and scratching the rest of the way. They pulled dead even with the Timberwolves early in the second quarter 25-25, but Kevin Love and Co. responded right back and built a lead the Cavs would never summit the rest of the way.

The only bright spots in the Cavs play Friday night were the continued rebounding presence of Anderson Varejao and Alonzo Gee’s high-flying antics. Andy finished with his lowest scoring outing of the year, netting only 4 points on 2-10 shooting, but grabbed 14 boards, dished 2 assists and blocked a shot in 33 minutes. Alonzo Gee led all Cavaliers in scoring with 16 points, including 4 awe-inspiring dunks, 2 steals, and 3 rebounds. When you really get down to it this season, Andy and Alonzo are about all you really have to cheer. The Cavaliers have now lost 14 of 16, with an overall record of 4-16. A quarter of the regular season schedule now sits behind the Wine and Gold, with hopes of a .500 record, let alone making the playoffs, as far off as the majority of the Cavs shot attempts in Minneapolis.

In the last 10 games, the Cavaliers have played Eastern Conference heavyweights Miami, Atlanta and Chicago. Western Conference powerhouses Portland, Memphis, and the surprising Minnesota Timberwolves also faced the Cavaliers during the 10-game stretch. Though beaten by an average of 6.4ppg in the 8 losses, the Cavs narrowly missed stunning the Heat in Miami November 24, and almost came away with a victory against Portland at home on December 1, if it weren’t for the last minute heroics of Nicolas Batum.

Before we talk about the good, let’s talk about what the Cavs are not doing well to sort of let the hypothermia set in and get it over with….

The expectations of sophomore Kyrie Irving and rookie Dion Waiters, like those of the Cavaliers in general, have taken a major back seat due to injury. Kyrie still has another week or two of rehab before he gets the green light to participate in full contact practice, and in the down-to-the-wire contest against Portland, Dion suffered a sprained right ankle going for a rebound during the fourth quarter. Jeremy Pargo, an undrafted point guard prospect and 2009 graduate of Gonzaga, has filled in for the injured Irving, posting 13.5ppg and 4.4apg as an interim starter over the last 10 games. Reserves Donald Sloan, who came up big while Irving sat with a shoulder injury last season, Daniel Gibson and Tyler Zeller have all stepped up their play, but too inconsistently to amount to any real kind of success.

Now for the gritty…

The Cavaliers are averaging a modest 90.25ppg in their 8 losses over the last 10 games. Opponents, however, are scoring 98.25ppg. Cleveland also averages 17.6 turnovers per game during this stretch and holds the season worst average of 8.10 shots blocked against. Also on the season, the Cavaliers now sit second to last in assists per game (19.5) and allow the second most per game (23.7). The most hideous statistic of all is probably the lack of offense. Over the last 10 games, the Wine and Gold were held to less than 80 points 4 times and less than 100 on 6 different occasions. The Cavs scored less than 20 in 11 quarters throughout the 10-game span, highlighted by 9-point and 11-point, 12-minute performances coming during the Memphis and Chicago contests.

Alright. Did we lose anybody? Would anyone like or need a Tums? I know I almost threw up in my mouth a little.

Now for the good…

Surprisingly, there is still some salvageable good to the season. Are we going to make it to the playoffs? Hell no. Will we win more games than we did last year? Even that is hard to tell at this point. But what is comforting is the effort and individual hustle from many of our players through the mists of this rather unfortunate forest of adversity we seem to be lost in.

Anderson Varejao is good, nay exceptional. Averaging a healthy double-double per contest, AV is making his case for Most Improved in the NBA, and possibly even Defensive Player of the Year. Not since Moses Malone has anyone posted the kind of numbers he’s averaging. As of Friday, Varejao led the NBA in rebounds by a sizable 2.4rpg (15.3). He’s doubling his career scoring average with 14.4ppg and dishes 2.1apg more than his career average, as well. He’s so good he’s turning heads all over league, which is making it far-too-tempting for the Cavaliers front office to try and trade the 30-year old power forward for draft picks and possibly another scorer to spread the offense. However, most Cavs fans will tell you where Chris Grant, Dan Gilbert and Co. can stick that idea.
Anderson leads the league with 15.1rpg
(Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images)
Alonzo Gee also deserves top nods for his play over the last 10, and in general. The small forward is putting up career averages in points per game (12.1), assists per game (2), and steals per game (1.5). His continued improvement, speed and strength on the defensive end of the floor make him a worthy match up against the league’s best scorers, and his ability to get to the rim at will and break away in the blink of an eye make him almost impossible to guard. This is only Gee’s 4th season.

In the two victories tallied over the last 10 games, Cleveland scored 102.5 points per contest and held opponents to just 97. In comparison, the Cavs give up 100.4ppg on the season, which is actually better than 8 other teams in the league, including Dallas, Portland, Denver, Houston and the defending champion Heat. For the first 10 games of the season, Cleveland allowed 102.7ppg and scored only 95.7. While the offense has been rather a snooze, the defensive intensity has picked up and led to several close contests, instead of humiliating blowouts like many of their early losses.

In large part due to the Wild Thing, the Cavaliers also out rebound opponents by a margin of +2.20rpg. Cleveland steals the ball .50 more times per game than opponents, and is just prettier, on the whole. But that’s just my opinion. The numbers speak for themselves.

It will be interesting to see if Cleveland can keep up this renewed defensive energy on the court and incorporate a more aggressive and controlled offensive system. Cavalier rotation woes still appear to be alive and well and create an almost start-and-stop flow to the offense. The return of Kyrie Irving in the next few weeks or so should put a spark back into the offense, but the bench may be bad enough to thwart any sort of happy reunion. The interest in Varejao on the market puts the Cavaliers in an interesting situation. He, and Gilbert’s deep, deep pocket book, may be valuable enough to lure a solid scorer or tenacious defender away from a contender if the right deal presents itself. But, as mentioned before, it might rock the chemistry of the entire organization. And we all know how that feels.
…easy killer.
(courtesy of google images)