Not old as in old news, the Cleveland Cavaliers were built as a veteran team and their age is finally catching up to them. LeBron James (32), J.R. Smith (31), Kyle Korver (35), Richard Jefferson (36), Deron Williams (32), Channing Frye (33), and James Jones (36) literally make up half of head coach Tyronn Lue’s available roster. Throw in a few injuries and no one should be surprised if the Cavs are looking more than just a little fatigued heading done the stretch.
Coaches (and James) love to play with veterans and they should. You know what you are going to get, but the older the veteran, the higher the risk of injury, the more careful you have to be about preserving them for the postseason, and the bigger the risk their natural physical abilities fade.
There is a reason why the NBA is often called a young man’s game. 82 games plus playoffs is a grind. It wears you down and the Cavaliers look like they are on their last legs. It’s a lot to ask of older players, especially defensively.
Losing four of their last five games and 11 of 19 since the All-Star break, the Cavs are backing into the playoffs. Once a sure-thing to finish first in the Conference, now even home court in the second round of the postseason seems to be in doubt. The Cavs have been a suspect team on defense all season and the longer it goes, the worse they’ve looked as recently discussed on the NBA.com blogtable.
David Aldridge: they haven’t been good for weeks now. This is a pretty large sample size. It can’t just all be that they’re bored or that the injuries have hurt their continuity.
Steve Aschburner: this looks more like an issue of fatigue, effort and focus.
Shaun Powell: aside from LeBron James, nobody is stellar. JR Smith and Iman Shumpert are older and mostly living on reputation these days.
Ian Thomsen: They shouldn’t be this bad defensively. What appears to be ailing them more than anything is exhaustion.
Smith is just recently back from a thumb injury and no one should be surprised that the oft-injured Kevin Love missed a few weeks (again). Love’s body is older and more fragile than might be expected from a 28-year-old.
Now it’s the aging key defensive cog Jefferson with knee tendinitis and the sharp shooter Korver with sore feet. If you count on guys over 30, you better have solid backups for when they go down.
The really big piece of this conversation remains James. Playing a team high 37.5 minutes a game because he has to, the seemingly indestructible King is only human and he’s not as young as he was before starting his run of six consecutive trips to the NBA Finals. Asking James at 32-years-old plus to carry a team playing big minutes thru the regular season will eventually mean he runs out of gas in the 20+ postseason games it takes to play in the Finals. No one at any age plays this many games for this many seasons.
“As far as rest goes, I think mentally it’s good for players just to get away,” Durant said. “Not even worrying about having to go through shootaround or mentally preparing for their matchup or playing the game. I think mentally it does help when you get a day not to worry about basketball because we’re so consumed with the game 24/7.
“… But most guys do want to play, love to play and want to be out there. So I understand both sides. It’s not like I’m taking sides at all. I understand both of them, but sometimes you may need a mental break from it, especially when you’re that top-level player like LeBron” – Chris Haynes, ESPN Staff Writer
This is what the Celtics, Wizards and Raptors have been waiting for. A crack in the Cavaliers juggernaut they can exploit. Right now the Cavs look old and slow on defense and injuries to key players make their offense much less formidable.
There is no cure for old tired legs except rest. Some people might suggest swallowing one’s pride, giving James a couple of weeks off and limiting the minutes of Love, Frye, Smith and company until the games matter and just let the regular season chips fall where they may. The Cavaliers are just playing for the postseason? Right?