CLEVELAND (92.3 the Fan) – With each passing game, it seems as if the Cleveland Cavaliers are passing time until Isaiah Thomas returns from injury.
Unfortunately, Isaiah Thomas is not going to stop Enes Kanter and Kristaps Porzingis from combining for 50 points and 24 rebounds.
The wine and gold have a ton of problems on both sides of the ball. Two of their four primary ball-handlers struggle to shoot, creating a major struggle to figure out rotations and find balance. Defensively, the team struggles to communicate in transition and has allowed an inordinate amount of 3-point attempts in a young season.
The excuses, though legitimate, are plenty. Thomas’s absence, as well as that of Derrick Rose, left the team without a true point guard. Eight new players are learning a defensive scheme.
Ultimately, it is the latter that is the issue. The Cavaliers have now allowed 100 points in five consecutive games. One night, it is the perimeter shooting that does the damage, another night it is the transition and post game.
Sunday night, the Cavaliers were outrebounded by the Knicks’ pair of seven-footers, 51-41. Though they claimed the points-in-the-paint category, Knicks Coach Jeff Hornacek attacked Cavs forward Kevin Love early and often to establish an inside game.
Statistically, starting center Tristan Thompson’s night was abysmal, if you tried to read too far into his 19 minutes that yielded a missed field goal, one made free throw and no rebounds. Thompson looked even worse on the score sheet when looking at Porzingis’s 13-of-27 night shooting, largely against him.
The 6-foot-10 Canadian put himself in good position to defend Porzingis all night, but the 7-foot-3 Latvian made tough shots over Thompson’s outstretched arms seemingly at will. Though Thompson’s defense was fundamentally sound, the defensive unit of Thompson and Love may be another roster liability after being abused by opposing bigs in back-to-back nights.
New York failed to hoist as many open shots as the likes of Brooklyn and Orlando had in weeks passed, but they hit often, led by Tim Hardaway Jr.’s 5-for-10 night from deep.
Though there seemed to be improvements in perimeter defense, the Knicks made up for it in transition, outscoring the Cavs on the break, 13-4. That mark was helped by New York’s forcing 15 turnovers and grabbing 40 defensive rebounds.
Love tied the issue to the massive roster turnover.
“I think it’s trust,” Love said. “We talk about the communication, I think it starts for us on the defensive end. So much of the time, you’ve heard me say over the last few years that we get on the break and want to push the pace, but we really haven’t done either.
“We’re so much better a team when we’re running down a team’s throat, not the other way around.”
What might have been most alarming was what LeBron James said about his team’s defense. Though the 14-year veteran was optimistic about the turnaround in the end, saying he was not worried about things in October, he said the team has taken a step back.
“No, we haven’t had much progress as of late, but I think we can get better, obviously,” James said.
“That’s the positive about it, but we’ve regressed as far as our defense.”