Cavs slumping, but title hopes remain high
The Cleveland Cavaliers have been categorically abysmal these past two weeks. In that stretch, the Cavs have beaten only one team — the Orlando Magic, the worst team in the entire league. In those two contests against the Magic, the Cavs won by a combined five points. They barely squeezed by in a 104-103 win on Jan. 18 and allowed 127 points on Jan. 6. The following weekend, the Cavs outdid themselves once again, pathetically giving up 148 points to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Cavs were also handed their biggest loss of the season, a 34-point blowout, by their now conference rival, the Toronto Raptors.
Needless to say, defense has been a struggle for the Cavs. Though they put up 109.7 points per game, they allow 109.5 points per game to their opponents. They rank, unbelievably, ahead of only four other teams in the NBA, one of which is the cringeworthy Magic. The Cavs aren’t clueless though — they realize their mistakes and General Manager Koby Altman is looking to plug the leaks.
In a recent update, the Cavs are looking to trade for Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, guard Lou Williams and Sacramento Kings guard George Hill. In the process, the Cavs expressed willingness to part with their 2018 first-round draft pick, guard Iman Shumpert and center Tristan Thompson. Though this move would bring along a powerful force down low in Jordan and a hot scorer in Williams, the Cavs may be disillusioned with their post-trade performance.
For starters, they may be trying to fit a square into a circle-sized gap. Let’s not mince words — the Cavaliers’ entire season plan is focused on the Golden State Warriors who have three of the top shooters in the league. With the triple threat at the three-point line, the Cavs need players who can defend up top and against smaller, quicker players. Jordan, a post-man who plays mainly within the paint, won’t solve any of those needs.
That’s where Williams and Hill come in. The Cavs must be hoping that those players will be able to better defend against guard Stephen Curry, guard Kevin Durant and guard Klay Thompson. Except for the fact that both are aging, 31-year old Williams and Hill will be solid role players at best. The Cavs will be trading away a premier defender in Shumpert for a better offensive player and a similarly suited defensive player in Williams or Hill. Yet Williams, who is averaging 23.4 points, is only doing so because of the lack of other scorers on the Clippers as he fills the role of former star point guard Chris Paul. Once he is instituted into the Cavs lineup, his offensive production will drop drastically and his worth will mainly be valued in his defensive abilities, which may not be much better than those of Shumpert. If the Cavs can in fact obtain both Williams and Hill they may have a case to be made, but that possibility is still subject to much speculation.
Lastly, the Cavs continue to struggle at the point guard position. The squad thought they had rid themselves of those point guard troubles when they traded away guard Kyrie Irving. Yet, as Irving was traded, the Cavs received another defensive liability in point guard Isaiah Thomas. The Cavaliers’ organization was hoping that Thomas’ return from a two-month hiatus would jumpstart the Cavs’ run to the top of the conference. Coincidentally — or maybe not — Thomas’ highly anticipated return on Jan. 2 coincided with the Cavs’ atrocious defensive streak and subsequent losing slide. Be careful what you wish for.
As NBA wisdom tells us, the rest of the regular season doesn’t matter nearly as much as what comes next. Since Lebron’s return to Cleveland, the Cavs have always been and will continue to be the perennial eastern conference favorites. Every team’s season ebbs and flows, but as long as the team is playing well come playoff time, their seed won’t matter. The Celtics and Raptors have both been playing well, but offer no match to playoff Lebron. His competition will come from the West.