A total collapse in Cleveland is almost unthinkable, especially with LeBron James putting up MVP numbers, but the three-time defending Eastern Conference champions are coming off a nightmarish week.
It began with a 28-point loss in Minnesota, followed by a 34-point loss in Toronto. Last night, an early 26-6 lead turned into a 97-95 loss at Indiana. Those games wrapped up a 1-4 road trip for a Cavs team that is now a distant third to the Celtics and Raptors in the race for the best record in the East.
The problems in Cleveland start with defense. The Cavaliers are the second-worst team in the league in points allowed per 100 possessions (109.5), and the roster doesn’t contain many outstanding individual defenders. There’s no rim protection with Kevin Love starting at center, and opponents are taking advantage.
With less than four weeks to go before the trade deadline, Cleveland has to be considering deals to bolster its defense. Rumors have linked the Cavs to Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, but he may not be available now that L.A. is back in the playoff race. The Clippers reportedly want the Nets’ unprotected first-rounder in return, and the Cavaliers are reluctant to part with it.
The core of this Cleveland team has been through mid-season swoons before and has always rebounded in time for the postseason. It’s possible that things will get better on their own, but the Cavs have another tough stretch ahead with the Warriors, Thunder and Spurs coming up in the next 10 days. Cleveland’s lead over the ninth-place Sixers has shrunk to four games in the loss column, and a sense of urgency seems to be developing in the organization.
“We all got to be accountable for our actions, accountable for how well we play, how we play, how hard we play, and what we do for one another,” James said after the blowout in Toronto. “And there were just some plays that you should come up with, that you should make, and when you’re losing, you tend to not wanna make those plays, or tend to let some plays get away from you. And we can’t afford that right now the way we’re playing ball. So just trying to hold everybody accountable and move on, which we did.”
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