Call it karma, call it fate, but ever since the Cleveland Cavaliers fired coach Blatt at 30-11, they haven’t really looked like a first place team anymore. Inserting a rookie head coach into any team mid-season is tough, but it has to be doubly hard when he’s expected to raise them up from a 60 win pace. No one outside of the Cavs brain trust understood that move.
As head coach Tyronn Lue has implemented changes, the team has gone 19-9 and the consistent Toronto Raptors are now just a game back of the preseason’s heavy favorites to coast through the Eastern Conference.
The Cavs offense has been better under Lue, but their slip-sliding defense has wiped out any gains. Just like every top team in the Association, LeBron James led teams have thrived on defensive presence. Lue seems to be taking this group down the wrong path.
With the highest payroll in the NBA and the best all-around player in the game, the Cavaliers could play street ball and win a lot of games on talent alone and with Lue focused on upping his team’s pace, winning on talent alone seems to be happening.
The Cavs are shooting a higher percentage and scoring more under Lue’s guidance, but they are giving it all back at the other end. There is no discernible improvement in the net numbers except net rebounding is getting noticeably worse and the loses are piling up. Isn’t it defense wins games?
Lue might have enjoyed more success if he could have implemented his system during training camp. Good teams thrive on a consistent message. The longer they play a certain way, the better they get at it. Implementing big changes mid-season is never a good idea in a winning program.
“Consistency is a part of life,” James is quoted by ESPN’s Brian Windhorst. “You would like to be playing extremely well in late February going into March.”
“Now I see why coaches get mad about little, small things. It happens a lot. Things I want to do, things I want [to] implement, it’s been tough to do it midway through the season,” Lue said.
The Cavaliers are not an easy team to coach. Make no mistake, this is James’ team and everything revolves around him, but James wants to share the load and on offense, he’s got two ball dominate stars in Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving who never had to share the wealth before he arrived. They also aren’t known for their focus on defense and that puts an even heavier load on James.
the biggest problem is defense. Love and Irving are both particularly big defensive liabilities.
This is a team with great talent that comes with a warning label.
Coaches say of a player with many facets to his game, “He’s a tough guard.”
I wonder what general managers think of a team that has to apportion ball-handling between isolation-set stars such as James and Irving and still mollify the other players? Might they say, “They’re a tough coach”?
This trio is a tough coach and it’s proving to be too tough to coach for a rookie. You’d think the Cavs would have figured that out before they fired last year’s rookie head coach David Blatt.
If Lue can keep the Cavs at the same winning pace since he took over, they’ll end up with 58 wins and by rights that would have considered enough to secure first place in the East at the start of the season.
Unfortunately, things change.
Since their 41st game, the Raptors have gone 22-6 and if they keep winning at that pace they’ll end up at 58 wins as well. Toronto has won the season series with the Cavs 2-1, so a tie gives first to the Raptors.
But, maybe Lue just doesn’t care about finishing first (anymore)?
“We definitely want the No. 1 seed if we can get it, but I think we have to rest our guys also,” ESPN’s Dave McMenamin reported Lue said after the team’s shootaround Monday morning. “I think health going into the playoffs is more important than the seeding. If we’re fortunate enough to get the No. 1 seed, it will be great for us. But if not, then we just got to play through it.”
Well, if the Cavs don’t want it, there’s a Raptors team that has never won 50 games in a season or even come close to finishing first in the Conference before that would be ecstatic to take it off their hands.
The Toronto Raptors don’t play again until Wednesday in Boston, but they may have already clinched a playoff spot if any one of Indiana, Detroit or Chicago loses on Monday night