Cleveland Cavaliers general manager Koby Altman expected the Cavs to encounter early-season issues.
“There’s going to be some adversity,” Altman told USA TODAY Sports just before the Cavs’ 2017-18 season began. “There’s going to be bumps in the road to start as we find this continuity. You bring in eight new faces, it’s going to be hard. But we have veterans who are in a really good place mentally. They know how to play.”
Perhaps it will take Cleveland longer than Altman or Cavs coach Tyronn Lue anticipated. At 3-4, the Cavs have one of the worst defenses in the league, a defense that has allowed at least 110 points in five of seven games. The Cavs gave up 114 in a loss to Orlando, 112 in a loss to Brooklyn, 123 in a loss to New Orleans and 114 in a loss to New York — all teams they were expected to beat.
Is it time to make bold, sweeping proclamations about what this means long term for Cleveland? Of course not. The season is too long, and Cavs superstar LeBron James has played too many seasons – now in his 15th and trying to reach his ninth Finals, including eight consecutive – to get too worked up about a slow start.
“What month is this for me? What is this? October?” James told reporters following the loss to the Knicks on Sunday. “I’m not about to go crazy over it right now. It’s too long of a season, and I’ve been a part of this way too many times, so I’m the wrong guy to ask. I’m too positive right now.”
But the Cavs are not dismissing the performances either. Nor should they. Lue called the past three losses unacceptable.
“Guys are just scoring at will against us,” James said. “Our defense is pretty bad right now. So, that’s the No. 1 thing.”
Teams are shooting 39.7% on three-pointers against the Cavaliers, and Cleveland’s defense is giving up points in transition, a sign teams are beating them down the court for easy shot attempts. Cleveland has the fourth-worst defense in the NBA, allowing 109.8 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com/stats.
October problems ooze into November problems and November issues seep into January and before you know it, the problems still exist when the playoffs arrive.
“The only way we’re going to be able to get out of it is to put the work in — as players, as coaches,” Lue told reporters. “And we’re going to do that.”
It hasn’t helped that Cleveland has had injuries and no consistent starting lineup, which has led to inconsistent rotations.
It’s not easy working in a new starting point guard to replace Kyrie Irving and finding the right lineups for Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, Jeff Green, Jae Crowder, Kyle Korver and Iman Shumpert with mainstay starters Kevin Love, J.R. Smith and Tristan Thompson. Remember, Isaiah Thomas is expected to return around Jan. 1.
But this is a talented enough roster that should overcome that. Lue even suggested players can be intimidated playing alongside a player such as James.
"I think a lot of times we defer to LeBron or guys are scared to be aggressive because of that,” Lue said. “He’s not that type of player at all, so we’ve got to talk about that – guys being who you are, being aggressive and playing your game.”
There is plenty of time for Cleveland to improve. The Cavs just need to start showing they can do it, or the same problems that plagued them last season and hurt them in the Finals will haunt them again.