Random dribbles on the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have lost four straight and nine of 12 heading into Thursday’s home game vs. the Orlando Magic.
1. A lot has been said and written over the past few days about the Cavaliers, and some of it may even be true. But those who are foolish enough to write off LeBron James … well, go down that road at your own peril.
2. Every year since LeBron returned, the Cavs have looked like an absolute mess once or twice or three times a season. That’s pretty much where they are now.
3. But each time, they reached The Finals. Two years ago, they won the title. And of the previous three regular seasons, I’d pick the championship year of 2016 as the worst. That was the same year the Golden State Warriors finished 73-9.
4. Today, the Cavs are 26-17 and in third place in the Eastern Conference. They are seven games behind the first-place Boston Celtics, and four back of the Toronto Raptors.
5. Seven of the Cavs’ next 10 games are at home. Meanwhile, Kyrie Irving and the Celtics hit the West Coast for four games next week — when they will face the Los Angeles Lakers, LA Clippers, Warriors and Denver Nuggets. Overall, six of the Celtics’ next 11 are on the road, with visits to the Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards in there, as well.
6. Who knows how any of this will actually go — but the point is, if the Cavs just take care of business at The Q, the gap could close considerably.
7. Does this mean everything is well with the Cavs? No, most definitely not. Do they still have lots of work to do and could they use more help via trades or post-deadline buyout candidates? Without a doubt.
8. But before we get all worked up or start writing off James and the Cavs, we need to realize there is still about a half a season to go. So much can happen between now and the regular-season finale April 11, and so much will.
9. There are other things to consider. For one, Isaiah Thomas is playing, but he’s hardly all the way back. After missing the early season with a hip injury, it’s clear he doesn’t yet have his legs, or his lungs. He fared well in his first two games back, but a lot of that can be chalked up to adrenaline. Now, reality has set in and it’s understandable that Thomas is struggling to make shots.
10. And let’s face it, the Cavs played the Warriors a lot closer on MLK Day than any time during the Kyrie era. Go back and look it up.
11. Yes, the issues run deeper than Thomas finding his stride and this team’s refusal to play hard every night. Frankly, I don’t think the Cavs have the personnel to defend all that well. On top of that, the rotation has been downright perplexing.
12. J.R. Smith has not been aggressive nor good, yet he’s averaging 30 minutes a game. I don’t understand.
13. I’d be considerably less judgmental about Smith if he would just shoot the dang ball. Against the Warriors, he had at least three wide-open looks behind the 3-point line, and each time he passed to someone else. It’s throwing off the entire offense. Cavs coach Tyronn Lue wants Smith to shoot, Smith’s teammates want Smith to shoot and the fans are utterly begging Smith to shoot. So just put it up already.
14. If not, there is no reason for him to be out there. The Cavs have enough guys who can dribble and pass. Those aren’t Smith’s fortes (especially the dribbling part). And he hasn’t been good enough defensively to use that as a reason to keep him on the floor.
15. I spend way too much time writing about J.R., but his ineffectiveness has undoubtedly been a factor in the recent slide.
16. And don’t even get me started on why Channing Frye should be playing. That second unit is totally different and entirely more clunky without Frye’s ability to spread the defense and pull opposing big men away from the hoop.
17. Oh, and the Cavs were winning all the time when he played. Not because of Frye alone, obviously. But the threat of Frye’s shooting appeared to help the other reserves to play more freely.
18. This isn’t me trying to say the Cavs should bench Tristan Thompson. This is merely my way of wondering why they have gone away from something that was working so well.
19. Anyway, again, Frye or no Frye the Cavs need help. I’ve written about it before and will be posting another column about it shortly. They can get out of the East again as is. That said, it sure doesn’t look like they can beat the Warriors as is.
20. Still, again, there is plenty of time for all that. Right now, the Cavs just need to start winning with the hand they’ve been dealt and not let this thing spiral out of control. But for all the panic, my money is on them staying within striking distance in the East and making a deal or two between now and the deadline.