Cavs Returning to Earth After Fun Start


Well, it was nice while it lasted.

After a promising start and steady defensive effort, the Cleveland Cavaliers have come crashing back down to earth.

The Wine and Golders went 0-5 during their recent Western Conference road trip, extending their current losing streak to eight. The Suns, Nuggets, Trail Blazers, Clippers and Warriors showed just how far away the Cavs are from truly contending.

Overall, Cleveland has lost twelve of their last fourteen games after starting 8-7. Since their captivating wins over the Nets, they have become the below-average team most expected them to be entering the season.

Cleveland had begun to form a solid defensive identity during the early part of the season. However, their road trip included five playoff teams in the West and they all made life difficult on that end. Each opponent scored over 120 points, except Phoenix who scored 119. Their loss to the Suns was the only one in which the game wasn’t over by the end of the third quarter. The Cavs, which at one point had a top-10 defense, now rank 20th in points allowed and dead last in point differential.

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First-quarter struggles

The Cavs trailed at the end of the first quarter during all but one game on the trip. The one exception occurred when they ended the opening period against Golden State tied. They allowed 166 total first-quarter points and each opponent finished with at least 32. Meanwhile, the Cavs only cracked 30 in one first quarter.

The early-game struggles ensured the Cavs would be fighting an uphill battle the rest of the way just to stay competitive. Denver doubled them up 34-17 in the first. They trailed Portland at one point 22-4. Against elite talent, Cleveland can’t afford to continuously dig themselves into an early hole.

Shooting Woes

On the road trip, Cleveland was abysmal shooting from behind the arc. During the trip, their three-point shooting splits paled in comparison to their opponents:

  • Cavs: 39 for 139 (28.1%)
  • Opponents: 70 for 162 (43.2%)

The Cavaliers never made more than eight three-pointers in any game. Cleveland now ranks last in both three-point shooting percentage and opponent three-point shooting percentage. They are the only team this season allowing opponents to shoot 40% from downtown.

Between Jarrett Allen, Andre Drummond, Larry Nance Jr. and JaVale McGee, the Cavs’ defensive strengths this season have been closer to the basket. Even so, the drop-off on the perimeter has been startling. It’s not as if the Cavs are completely devoid of capable perimeter defenders.

Taurean Prince has proved to be a versatile forward who can guard almost every position. Cleveland drafted Isaac Okoro fifth overall in large part because of his potential to be a high-level perimeter defender. It wasn’t easy for him on the trip going up against the likes of Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, Devin Booker and Jamal Murray.

As good as Okoro could be one day, for now he’s still a rookie finding his footing.

Drummond saga

The story of the Cavs’ dreadful road trip can’t be told without mentioning the team’s situation with Andre Drummond. As if their poor play on the road wasn’t bad enough, the entire NBA seems to be discussing the Cavs’ decision to hold Drummond out of games.

Cleveland has no intention of playing Drummond as they work on trading him before the March 25th trade deadline. He’s on an expiring contract, but his salary is $28.7 million which would require cap space gymnastics in order to match salaries with another team. The Cavs would need to take back $23 million in contracts to make a trade work. Still, Drummond has a number of potential trade suitors as he’s averaging 17.5 points and ranks second in the NBA averaging 13.5 rebounds per game.

After the Cavs snuck into the James Harden trade to acquire Allen, the writing was on the wall that Dre’s days in Cleveland were numbered. His pregame outfit received plenty of attention ahead of the Cavs’ loss to the Clippers.

Drummond didn’t dress for the last two games of the road trip officially due to “rest”.

His situation received even more league-wide scrutiny thanks to longtime Cleveland nemesis Draymond Green. After dominating the Cavs, Green dedicated his postgame press conference to calling out the double standard players face when they want to leave a team. He said there is an unfair disparity in the league and players are called “selfish” for wanting to be traded, but when a team publicly decides to sit a player, it’s for the best interests of the team.

Head coach J.B. Bickerstaff acknowledged the awkwardness of the situation and praised Drummond’s professionalism. Nevertheless, this will be a dark cloud hovering over the Cavaliers until he either gets traded or bought out.

Looking ahead

The Cavs were supposed to play at home on Wednesday against San Antonio only two days after concluding their road trip. However, the game was postponed because the Spurs didn’t have enough players available due to COVID-19. Instead Cleveland will play at home on Friday against Denver, who was also affected by schedule reshuffling.

The extra time off gives the Cavaliers a chance to regroup after one their worst road trips in recent memory. Kevin Love, who has missed nearly the entire season with a calf injury, is getting closer to returning. His ability to stretch the floor in particular should be a major boost to a Cavs offense that has looked stagnant for long stretches during their current losing streak.

With just over a month before the trade deadline, general manager Koby Altman has a lengthy sample size with which to judge this roster. It’s only a matter of time before Drummond gets dealt or bought out. This losing streak has shined a light on Cleveland’s glaring need for improvements in shooting and defending threes. Altman must address the three-point line one way or another at the deadline.

The Cavaliers have seven games left in the first half of the season. A strong finish is essential to moving past a road trip from hell.

Follow us on Twitter @CavsLead for the latest Cavs news and insight. 

About Avi Carr-Gloth

Avi is an Emerson College graduate with a B.S. in Journalism. Follow him on Twitter @avicarrgloth to stay up to date on the latest Cavs content.

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