On Jan. 26th, the Cavs crushed the defending NBA Champion Milwaukee Bucks 115-99. Led by Kevin Love’s 25 points and Cedi Osman’s 23 points (both off the bench), the Cavs looked like they could hang with any team in the NBA. It was one of their first victories of the season where they defeated a championship-level team and all of the opposing players were healthy and available. Two-Time MVP and 2021 Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo looked mortal, scoring a -11 in the +/- category and was stifled at the rim all night long by Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley. The No. 3 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft even put the “Greek Freak” on a poster!
The jaw-dropping performance put the Cavs record at 30-19. The Wine and Golders were sitting only two games out of the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. Since that night, the Cavs have only won nine ball games, while dropping 10. While injuries have contributed to the team's drop off, it’s not the sole reason for the lack of success in February and early March.
Yes, starters Darius Garland and Lauri Markkanen have missed significant time with injuries. Yes, losing All-Star Center Jarrett Allen hurts the team. Yes, key pieces off the bench in Caris LeVert and Rajon Rondo are just getting back.
However, Love, an early favorite to win Sixth Man of the Year, has only gone over 20 points four times since the Bucks game in late January. In his last seven ball games, the 2016 NBA Champion has only shot the ball more than 10 times twice and is shooting only an average of 45% from the field.
Not only Love, but Osman has struggled to stay consistent every night over the recent rough patch. Some nights, he will score 20+ points and shoot 50% or better from the field. Others, he’s in the single digits, with his shooting percentage dropping below 30% on occasion.
The lack of bench scoring from the Wine and Golder’s two best bench scorers is causing Garland to play hero ball, affecting the Cavs’ offensive flow. As of March 15th, the Cavs rank 25th in scoring per game, putting up around 107 a contest. The teams’ free throw percentage currently sits at 23rd in the league at 76%. While that number is rounded and is tied with a boatload of teams, good teams and playoff-caliber teams typically don’t shoot in the ‘C’ range at the Charity Stripe.
Maybe more concerning for the Cavs is their defense. While they still rank No. 2 overall in points given up per game (104), the stats are a little deceiving. Over their last 19 ball games, they’ve only held their opponents under 100 points five times. Those five times: New Orleans, Indiana, San Antonio, Washington and Toronto. Three out of the four (San Antonio being the exception), rank average or below average in offensive production. In that same stretch, the Cavs have given up over 110 points 10 times. They only gave up at least 110 points 12 times in their first 49 games, and two of those games were their first two games of the campaign. For a team who’s built on size, the Cavs also only rank 12th in defensive paint points per game. In their last three games, the team has given up an average of 53 paint points a game, tied with the Knicks and Hornets for 21st in the league. That’s not going to cut it come playoff time.
While the schedule has not played to the Cavs favor so far in March, the teams they play shouldn’t matter. Good teams and playoff-caliber teams find a way to win games when the odds are not in their favor. The Cavs were a Top 4 team in the NBA entering 2022. As of late, they look like a team who’s going to fall into the Play-In Tournament in the middle of April. They’re way out of the honeymoon phase.
It’s not one person’s fault. Injuries happen. Losses happen. Every team in the NBA goes through ups and downs throughout the course of the 82-game campaign.
It’s now on the players and coaches to step up and right the ship. The warning signs are concerning. If the Cavs continue to fall, they’ll be going home early in April.
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