Is it finally time to accept LeBron James and Co won't be able to flip the switch?
Loss after loss and defensive breakdown after defensive breakdown, it’s getting harder to trust that the Cleveland Cavaliers will look like a different team when it truly matters.
The story feels as old as time. The Cavaliers look vulnerable as their weaknesses are exposed in the regular season. We collectively wonder if this is finally the year that a LeBron James team gets knocked off its perch in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Cleveland dispel doubts by steamrolling the competition on their way to another NBA Finals appearance.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
If past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour, then there’s no point reading into the Cavaliers’ current woes, right?
Well, at the risk of sounding like ‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf’, this season feels different.
For one, this isn’t the same roster that flipped the switch in the playoffs the last few years. LeBron James remains the ultimate constant, but many of the key supporting pieces around him have changed – Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Dwyane Wade, Jeff Green and Jose Calderon are all in their first season with Cleveland.
And while it’s easy to attribute their current struggles to lack of effort, especially on defence, the truth is their personnel consists of fundamental flaws and inabilities on that end of the floor that can’t be fixed by just upping the stakes.
Cleveland’s defensive rating of 109.5 points allowed per 100 possessions isn’t just concerning, it’s likely fatal. That figure ranks the Cavaliers as the second-worst team in the league, ahead of only Sacramento.
For comparison, Cleveland were bad last year, but ranked 22nd in defensive rating at 108.0. There’s a difference between being below average and being nearly worst in the league.
Couple the Cavaliers’ deficiencies with the improvement of their two biggest Eastern rivals – Toronto and Boston – and there’s every reason to believe the gap has been significantly closed.
It may not end up mattering as it’s possible Cleveland are challenged more than ever through the first three rounds, only to get through the East again.
But really, this entire conversation doesn’t matter, if we’re being existential, because there’s no way this version of the Cavaliers can beat Golden State.