LeBron James brought the glory to Cleveland as he promised he would. This year with Kevin Love hurt and James complaining mid-season that the Cavs aren’t as good, there’s suddenly ample evidence to back up James’ complaint. For a team that won the NBA title, the Cavs look a little unfamiliar to the casual fan (gone are Matthew Dellavedova, Timofey Mozgov, Dahntay Jones and Mo Williams). What is the same is the two main guys. Kyrie Irving, coming off his championship-winning 3-pointer, is having a tremendous year. (There is no more talented point guard in the league.) But more than 40% of Cleveland’s offense comes through James or Irving in isolation. When James says the Cavs are top-heavy, this is what he means. Plus James’ minutes are sky high as he carries the load strapped to his back — which must feel as heavy as the city of Cleveland some nights.
The Cavs are struggling, yes, but only in the way first place teams struggle. Their expectations are championship expectations, and 4-6 over their last ten heading into Detroit isn’t how a team warms up for the playoffs. With Love out, and shooter JR Smith just back and Kyle Korver — on paper a perfect fit but not truly healthy — delivering unevenly, the Cavs lack something critical that even their two superstars can’t fix by themselves: team defense. The Cavs rank 29th in the NBA in defense since the All-Star break. It’s not a precipitous fall from grace either — they haven’t been in the top 20 all year. Offense can go through two or three guys, but defense requires five. Tristan Thompson helps, but while he’s on Keeping up with the Kardashians, the Cavs are having a hard time keeping up with the Celtics.