Justin Norris | Staff Writer
The Cleveland Cavaliers, three-time defending Eastern Conference champions, have gotten off to a lackluster 7-7 record to start the season.
So far, the Cavaliers have lost to supposedly inferior teams such as the Magic, Nets, Pelicans, Knicks, Pacers and Hawks.
It took a 57-point outburst, the second-most of LeBron James’ career, to avoid losing to the Wizards. This is the second-worst start to a season for James, with the worst coming in his rookie season.
Offseason acquisition Dwyane Wade told ESPN’s Dave McMenamin, “Our first unit, we got to start off better.”
While Wade’s assertion is correct, there are multiple reasons explaining the Cavs’ struggles.
The Cavs are working in several new players to their rotation after trading Kyrie Irving in the summer, and there is always going to be an adjustment period when incorporating so many new players.
To make matters worse, All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas will not return from his hip injury until January.
The Cavs also simply are not making shots: they are making three fewer 3-pointers per game compared to last season.
Cleveland has been wildly inconsistent. The Cavs are averaging 118 points per game in wins and only 103 in losses, while their 3 point field goal percentage is 10 points higher in wins than in losses.
Perhaps the biggest cause of Cleveland’s struggles stems from their lackadaisical defensive play.
The Cavs rank dead last in defensive efficiency.
Their defense was poor last year, but their offense was dynamic enough that it covered up how porous their defense was.
This season, their offense has slipped slightly, and their defense has remained lousy, so the high-scoring games that they would have won last year are losses this year.
A bigger problem is that many of the players they’ve acquired are aging, injury-prone veterans who do not shoot well, which means that they are not a great fix next to James.
While many presume that the Cavs are just coasting until the playoffs, the one troubling aspect is that James’ scoring and rebounding numbers are up, so it is clear he is not mailing in the games so far.
This is the last season before James becomes a free agent.
The Cavaliers’ management must be worried about their slow start and what impact it might have on James’ free-agent decision.
James has made it clear that he will go to whatever team gives him the best chance to win championships.
He has left Cleveland once before, and after fulfilling his promise of delivering a championship to Cleveland, he has every right to leave again.