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Is It Time to Panic in Cleveland Yet?

Relax, relax – it’s not even Thanksgiving yet. There’s no need to start burning jerseys and throwing hissy fits at this point. I get it, a pathetic 5-6 record is nothing to be proud of. Currently sitting on the outside looking in at the putrid Eastern Conference Playoff race is shameful.

This blog is going to cover this less than stellar start the Cavs have gotten off to. I will also talk about why Cleveland fans don’t need to start panicking, at least not just yet.

If you appreciate the NBA, you should enjoy this page as I use data, along with my 20+ years of watching the National Basketball Association to tell you what I think the future holds for this 2017-2018 Cavaliers squad.

I suggest getting comfortable, perhaps enjoy a cold beverage. Serious tone backed by facts combined with lighthearted jokes aimed at teams and players should keep you more than entertained for the next few minutes.

Let’s begin by taking a closer look at the Cav’s first 11 games. Why have they struggled?

The 5-6 Start

So, what’s going on in Cleveland? I know they have only played 11 regular season games. It’s not a huge sample size but it is enough to start to notice some trends. Trends that head coach Tyronn Lue is pretty displeased about. Lue was quoted on nba.com saying after a recent practice,

“Have to keep showing film and continue to keep talking about it. Make sure we’re aware of it and I think guys are embarrassed and should be embarrassed of how we’re getting beat.”

What the head coach is referring to is his team’s utter lack of effort on the court. Let’s be honest folks- it’s not like the Cavs are losing to the juggernauts of the league. Those losses haven’t come against the likes of the Golden State Warriors or the San Antonio Spurs.

After winning three out of their first four games, the Cavs appeared to be on track to cruise through another regular season. Suddenly, the Cavs lost five consecutive games. This included losses against both crummy New York teams, the Knicks and the Nets. You think that was bad?

How about a few days later, losing a home game in front of all your fans against the team that has the worst record in the entire conference? That right, the Atlanta Hawks had dropped eight straight games before coming into Cleveland and handing the Cavs their fifth loss in six games.

How is this happening to a team that has gone to the NBA Finals each of the past three seasons? For starters, the Cavs are doing one thing worse than all other 29 teams in the league- defending the basketball.


The NBA has a statistic that combines all the relevant defensive stats and jumbles them into one. It’s called “defensive rating” and it refers to the overall efficiency of a team’s defense. Well, there are 30 teams in the National Basketball Association and the Cavs rank dead last in this all-important stat.

They got there by allowing 113.9 points per game, good enough for 28th out of the 30 teams. Teams are shooting 48.5% from the field against the Cavs, which places them just ahead of the Timberwolves for 29th in the league. It actually gets worse from here ladies and gentlemen.

Cleveland opponents shoot 41.9% from beyond the arc and make a whopping 13.4 3-point field goals per game. Cleveland places dead last in both of those defensive categories. Should I keep going or do you get the point?

When there are 30 teams in the NBA and you rank either 28th, 29th, and 30th in all the major defensive statistics, what do you expect the outcome to be? The firepower of Cleveland’s offensive attack has actually helped masked these defensive woes to an extent. In Cleveland’s last two wins they had to score 130 and 124 points to get there.

They gave up 122 points to the Wizards and 119 points to the Bucks in two games they actually won. The pressure of having to score that many points to win a game will certainly take its toll over the course of an 82-game season.

Lebron’s Minutes

The wear and tear on Lebron James’s body when he has to battle it out for nearly 40 minutes every night is not something the Cleveland front office really wants happening this early on. Sure, needing “Bron-Bron” to put on his Superman cape in June and carry his team through playoff series after playoff series is what they pay him the big bucks to do.

Asking him to do it all on a nightly basis in early November isn’t the way the Cavs want to play games. As we currently stand, Lebron is second in the NBA in minutes per game at a shade under 38. The Cavs would love to see that number in the low-30s, but they just haven’t been afforded that luxury yet.

James is busting his tail, averaging a video-game like 28.9 points, 9.1 assists, and 7.3 rebounds per game. And the Cavs are still under .500! something needs to change. Having a little pride in playing defense and taking some stress of Lebron James would certainly be a good start. The poor guy’s hairline is already receding. At this pace, he will be completely bald by March!


While many people like to bash Cleveland and reign on their parade, the fact of the matter is they traded their star point guard Kyrie Irving over the summer and received an absolute stud in Isiah Thomas in return. Unfortunately, Thomas has been dealing with a substantial tear in his hip and has just been unable to go up to this point.

The good news for Cleveland fans and players is that “IT”, as Thomas is referred to as, was reportedly spotted in the Cavs practice facility this week doing some half-speed drives to the hoop. This is terrific news for the 5’9” point guard whose original timetable to return was slated for some time in January.

The reason this is so important is because let’s look at what the Cavaliers are trying to replace. Last season, Kyrie averaged 25.2 points and 5.8 assists per game. When you remove that from your lineup and the replacement is yet to take the court, of course there are going to be growing pains.

Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert acquired Derrick Rose in the offseason to help manage the point guard duties and he too has been hobbled and forced to miss time. Center Tristan Thompson is out for a month with a strained calf. At least he’ll get to spend more time with girlfriend Khloe Kardashian.

Until the Cavs are fully healthy, it’s hard to judge them and project what the final product will look like.

The one concern I do have is how Isiah Thomas will respond from his severe hip injury. I mean, the dude is listed at only 5’9” and 185 lbs… and I think they are being generous. Maybe they weighed him at night after he ate six cheeseburgers and four orders of chili cheese fries. My guess is Isiah is more like 170 pounds and pushing 5’8”.

A body like that isn’t built for the physical toll that is the NBA. Thomas is coming off a year in which he played more minutes and scored more points than any other season in his entire career. I know they are saying he will be back in the new year, but I’d be wary. I’d also be a bit nervous to see if he will be able to perform at the elite level he was playing at last season if and when he is able to join the Cavs lineup.

Lebron told espn.com on November 9th,

“I don’t think we’re relying on IT to come back. We want him to take his time. When he feels he’s ready, he’s going to fit right in. We can’t rely on just one person. We can’t rely on just one person for us to be as good as we want to be, whether it’s IT, or myself or Tristan (Thompson) being out. We have guys who have to step up.”

Even James is getting the sense that Thomas’s injury may be more significant than just a standard hip strain. The Cavs could certainly use a boost of energy to “lift up” their team. The presence and skill set of Isiah Thomas’s return will hopefully provide that missing link for Cleveland. I just hope it is sooner rather than later.

What to Expect Moving Forward

For Cavs fans, this is the fun part. The part where I gloat and brag about Lebron’s ability to have the team “turn the switch on” when it matters most. The Cavs have been to the NBA Finals each of the last three seasons and guess what? Not once have they have they breezed through the regular season with no drama. So, why would this year be any different?

That’s just it- it won’t be. I expect to see more struggles here and there. I expect to see little rifts in the locker room like the other day when Dwayne Wade called out the starting unit after blowing the lead to the Hawks.

This is the National Basketball Association and the regular season is 82-games long, played over the course of six long months. For me to expect the Cavs to come out unscathed with no bumps or bruises would just be me being naïve.

So, here’s what I do expect to see:

The Cavs will head into the playoffs with one of the top seeds. I think their lackluster attitude in the early going could be enough to keep them from retaining the number one seed out in the east. Despite losing Gordon Hayward to a gruesome leg injury on opening night, the Boston Celtics appear to be a team that means business. I wouldn’t be surprised if they continue to flourish and capture the top seed.

On the other hand, regardless of what seed Lebron and his team enter the playoffs with- they will be the team to beat. By then, the Cavs will have had ample time to work out the kinks and be adjusted to the new faces. New faces like the aforementioned Wade, Jae Crowder, and Jeff Green should have firm roles within the offense. Isiah Thomas will hopefully be back and playing at close to full-strength.

Should those things pan out, which is the natural direction I expect things to move towards, I expect the Cavs to be right in the mix again come June.

The NBA playoffs are a different kind of beast. All series are best-of-seven, so the better-equipped team generally comes out on top. What I have learned over the past seven years watching the NBA Eastern Conference Playoffs is this:

The team with Lebron James on it makes it to the NBA Finals. It’s just that simple.

Since the 2010-2011 season, Lebron has found himself playing for an NBA Championship each and every season. As remarkable as that sounds, it’s just the truth. I didn’t have to do anything fancy or crazy, I just pulled up the data and relayed the information to you.

The reason this is so relevant is due to the way the Eastern Conference is currently set up. This is just how it is going to be.

Until teams start stepping up to the plate and forming “super teams” to challenge Lebron, they won’t be able to impede on his pathway to the Finals.

We saw Boston attempt to build a “mega-team” this offseason by signing Gordon Hayward to a four year, $128-million contract and make a blockbuster trade to land Kyrie Irving. Unfortunately for the fans in Boston, they will have to wait until next season to see Hayward back on the court wearing the green uniform.

Hayward’s terrible and ill-fated leg injury is enough to make me think the Celtics won’t have enough ammunition to contend with Cleveland over the course of seven games. As far as the other teams in the Conference, I just don’t see it. Not quite yet.

I love the 76ers’ young nucleus of players. I really enjoy watching John Wall and the Wizards play. I even think the Orlando Magic are a legitimate team. I just don’t think Lebron is ready to hand over the reins of being King in the East just yet.

In a nutshell, look for the Cavs to continue having ups and downs throughout the season. Expect to see teammates calling each other out publicly. Get ready to witness the extreme highs and the disappointing lows.

This is the NBA everyone. It’s a league filled with storylines and drama mixed in with the best athletes in the world displaying their extraordinary talents on a nightly basis. The Cavaliers are the epitome of this.

Did you ever expect anything else?

Enjoy the season!

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