Cavs MLK Loss to Warriors Creates Doubt Over Contender Status

cavs-in-troubleThe Cleveland Cavaliers suffered a 118-108 home loss to the Golden State Warriors on Monday. And afterward, several players on the team talked about the growing concern that they may not be able to fix their problems and compete for a championship.

ESPN’s Dave McMenamin reports that multiple players have concerns about their aging roster, redundant (3-point shooting) role players, and lack of defense.

All this has been evident in an up-and-down season for Cleveland, who started off 5-7, before winning 18 of their next 19 games. However, they’ve now lost nine of their past 12 contests, including the demoralizing loss to the warriors.

One might say that this is only a single game. But the loss to Golden State now drops Cleveland to 1-6 against the top three teams in both conferences. Their only victory against such an opponent was a win against Boston after Gordon Hayward broke his ankle.

Defense is the Biggest Problem

Last year, the Cavs were a poor defensive team that finally got better in the postseason. But this year, they’re absolutely dreadful, ranking 29th in defensive efficiency. They allow 109.3 points per 100 possessions.

In the last 20 years, no NBA team that’s finished in the bottom two in defensive efficiency has made the playoffs, let alone the NBA Finals.

If Cleveland continues at this rate, they’ll become the first such team to make the playoffs. After all, their offense has been good enough to give them a 26-17 record. But it’s highly unlikely that they can get through the Eastern Conference playing such bad defense.

Cavs Blew Lead Over Warriors

Despite the current discontent in the Cleveland locker room, they didn’t play too badly against the team with the league’s best record. In fact, the Cavs were actually leading by seven points at halftime.

But the Warriors turned on the jets from here, outscoring Cleveland 61-44 in the second half. The fourth quarter was a specially damming, given that Cleveland shot just 26.1% (6-for-23) from the floor.

While this was definitely a tough loss to take, LeBron James found solace in the fact the team put in a strong effort.

“It seemed like the rim just got smaller and smaller,” said James. “Like our effort tonight. If we continue on that, going into our next few games, then I like where we are.”

Still Room for Improvement

isaiah-thomas-cavs-warriorsThe first time Cleveland played Golden State, they didn’t have the services of Tristan Thompson (calf) and Isaiah Thomas (hip). But both players were on the court against the Warriors this time around. And they couldn’t make a big enough difference to swing the tide in Cleveland’s favor.

Nevertheless, there’s still some improvement to be made here. This is especially the case when considering that Thomas, has only been back for five games, played his most minutes (32) last night.

“I just want him to take the shots that are given to him,” said Cleveland Coach Tyronn Lue. “Not forcing shots, but if someone, whoever is on the team that can shoot the basketball, if they’re open 21 times, then take your shots. It’s not about the amount of shots, it’s the amount of good shots. If they’re your shots then you’ve got to be ready to take them.”

Thomas has drawn a lot of comparisons to Boston Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving, who was involved in the trade that sent Thomas to Cleveland. Right now, Irving and the Celtics hold the number one spot in the East, while Cleveland is currently fielding questions about their team chemistry.

However, it’s a little unfair to compare the two right now when considering that Thomas is still trying to get into the swing of things.

“[It could take me] 15 to 20 games or maybe a month,” Thomas said in regard to getting “back to the level that [I am] used to playing at.”

Rose and Shumpert Currently Out

Guards Derrick Rose and Iman Shumpert are currently out with injuries. And they’ll add to the rotation when they’re healthy enough to return.

Of course, they could also further complicate a rotation that’s already in disarray. After all, Lue still has yet to figure out a lineup that can both score and shut down opposing offenses.

Cavs Trade Coming?

derrick-rose-lebronCleveland isn’t getting any younger. And there’s no defensive help on the way either. The Cavs will play better around the postseason – like always – but will it be enough?

Kevin Love can’t protect the rim when he plays center, Thomas is a defensive liability, and the rest of the roster is past its defensive peak.

Offensively, Cleveland doesn’t have a clear playmaker when LeBron sits. Thomas could be this when he’s healthy. But what happens when both sit?

Dwyane Wade, Rose, and Jose Calderon aren’t elite playmakers, while J.R. Smith and Kyle Korver are merely spot-up shooters. Then you have Jae Crowder, who’s having his worst season in years.

The important thing to remember here is that Cleveland is still 26-17 and looking like a middle seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, at worst.

But they certainly don’t look like any real challenger to the Warriors. They might not even be good enough to make it out of the East. And this would be a first within the past four years.

This is why GM Koby Altman might make a big trade before the deadline. I discussed the potential scenario where they acquire center DeAndre Jordan from the Clippers. But this would mean that they’d have to give up the Nets’ 2018 first-round pick.

Word now is that they want to keep it in case LeBron bolts in free agency. But the players would no doubt like to see Altman use this asset to better the team, especially with what’s going on now.

Cleveland still has over three months before the playoffs begin to get things right. That said, it’ll be interesting to see if they can swing a good trade or find a really effective lineup before then.