The Cleveland Cavaliers are gain in a losing slide, winning just four of their last 14 games. They’re on a four-game losing streak before stopping their skid against a lowly Oralndo Magic last Thursday, then losing again against the Oklahoma City Thunder this Saturday.
Are these Lebron James-led Cavs in real trouble or are they just cruising through the regular season enroute to the playoffs?
We have seen this scene unfold last year and we knew how it ended.
To recall, the Cavs started their campaign that season with a 25-7 record as the 2016 calendars closed. They won three of their first four games in 2017 to hike their record to 28-8.
Then came the losing streak. They lost 7 of their next 11 games to end January with a 7-8 record, sliding to 31-15.
They were able to check the skid in February, winning 9 of 11 games but started losing games again in March, dropping 10 of 16 to settle with a 47-27 record, trailing the 48-26 of Boston.
They won their next four, including one against the Celtics, to momentarily grab the best record in the East but yield it back to Boston again when they lost their last four games.
They, however, seemed to be reserving their energy for the playoffs, going on a 12-1 rampage on their way to the NBA Finals, only losing Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Celtics.
Will this year’s on-going trend follow last year’s pattern?
What is alarming with the situation this year compared to last year’s is how some of their losses, and wins, were “ugly”, to borrow Kevin Love’s description.
Three of four their last four wins were expected wins. They came against opponents they should easily handle, the Orlando Magic (twice), and the Chicago Bulls. The other came against more respectable Portland Trailblazers.
While their last eight losses came against top teams, the manner they lost some of them were downright bad.
They lost by 14 to Boston, led by former Cav Kyrie Irving, on January 3 in a game where the Celtics broke away in the first quarter to take the fight out of the Cavs for the rest of the game. The Cavs were held to a season-low 88 points by the Celtics defense.
Five days later, they were dumped by the Minnesota Timberwolves to the tune of 28 points, their most lopsided loss at that point. The Cavs were again taken out early, falling 20-4 in the first, and went on to trail by as many as 41, their biggest of the season, so far.
Another three days later, they will reestablish their worst loss of the season when they got smoked by the Toronto Raptors by 34. They lost to a Raptor team that was missing key players Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka, who were both out due to injuries.
Then it was the Indiana Pacers turn. When the two teams met on January 12, it was the Cavs who quickly built a big lead early, leading by as much as 22 in the first half, but allowed the Pacers to creep in slowly and overturn the deficit into a 97-95 victory.
The Cavs established another record of futility against the Thunder on Sunday. They tied a season-high 148 points given up to an opponent in their 24-point loss to Oklahoma, which also tied their franchise record. Their double-digit loss was the one of only two cases where a team who scored 124 or more and still lost by double digits.
Even their wins against the worst teams in the league weren’t pretty.
Their wins against Orlando were just by a paltry four and one point; and barely passing by the Bulls by just three.
In their one-point win against Orlando, they bungled a 23 point lead in the second quarter, 20 at the half. Only free throws by Isaiah Thomas in the dying seconds saved the Cavs from joining the New York Knicks and the Philadelphia Sixers as teams who had a lead of more than 20 points at one point is a game and lost.
James seemed not to be bothered that much, although he did say said this season is the most challenging one. In another interview, he mentioned how the Cavs can become Jekyll and Hyde, referring to their struggling during the regular season but turning into a beast in the playoffs.
James may know something about the Cavs resilience that we don’t.
But looking how the retooled Celtics are doing so far, even without Gordon Hayward and their current three-game losing streak; the ever-improving Raptors who are poised to put up a fight for the East top seeding; and the surfacing of the Miami Heat as a worthy contender, the Cavs might be in a real fight to keep their Eastern Conference title.
If the playoffs were to start today, the Cavs will be the thirds seed, behind Boston and Toronto. They are just half a game ahead of Miami for the fourth seed. The Washington Wizards are at fifth, just 1½ game behind, while the Pacers are the sixth seed, just three games behind.
The Cavs turning into the Incredible Hulk in the playoffs from the ordinary Bruce Banner in the regular season may not be enough to duplicate their impressive playoff record last year and set-up another date with the Golden State Warriors, or whoever will come out of the West, for the NBA trophy.
BY: ARMANDO M. BOLISLIS.