Byron Scott calls out the Cavs’ bench

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If the Cleveland Cavaliers’ shockingly competitive start seems like a lifetime ago, it’s probably because the Cavs have been killed about a dozen times since their .500 days.

Byron Scott is left to confront the realities of his dreadfully limited roster, and though there are a few useful players in the bunch, he’s been forced to stockpile the lot of them in his starting lineup and essentially leave the bench for dead. The days of Antawn Jamison the reserve are over, and though the newly minted starting lineup of Mo Williams, Daniel Gibson, Anthony Parker, Jamison, and Anderson Varejao can sometimes keep its head above water, the team as a whole drowns because of the reserves’ dead weight.

Scott took notice of his bench’s inability to keep pace, and also took a bit of a shot from the press scrum. From Mary Schmitt Boyer of the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

Although the Cavs entered Sunday with the most points scored by reserves, when Scott turned to them in the third quarter, the game got away for good. “Our first unit is doing a pretty good job,” Scott said. “I’ve got to find a combination of that second unit that’s going to come in and play the right way and do the right things because as soon as all five [starters] are off the floor, we’re just getting slaughtered.”

J.J. Hickson, who went to the bench when Jamison was promoted, didn’t want to hear that from his coach. “Oh, so he’s blaming it on the bench?” Hickson said. Then he caught himself. “If he feels that way then, that’s the way he feels,” Hickson said. “That’s his opinion. He’s the head coach. He gets paid to make decisions to put players in and it’s up to us to bring life to the game when we get in and cut the other team’s lead down even more. We haven’t been doing a good job of getting that done. But it’s a long season; it’s a work in progress.”

Hickson’s scoffing response is a pretty natural defense, but nothing he says makes Scott any less correct about the bench’s troubles. Cleveland may have the league’s best reserves based on their season scoring average, but over the last five games, the Cavs’ subs have ranked 22nd in points per minute. What’s perhaps worse: they’ve shot a league-worst 34.6% from the field, a painful thorn in the side of any team.

It shouldn’t be all that surprising. Hickson doesn’t have the means to create his own shot consistently, and alongside him on the bench are Ramon Sessions (who can create shots, but only for steady scorers), Manny Harris, Ryan Hollins, Leon Powe, and Joey Graham. Who among them is supposed to score, much less score efficiently?

No matter how Scott rearranges the pieces, this roster is riddled with holes. Every adjustment reveals a different flaw. The only way to really patch things up is to make additions, and the only way to make additions is to start cutting salary and cashing in on what value the roster has left.

Tyronn Lue says he has secret plan to fix Cavaliers’ defense for playoffs

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Only one team that ranked outside the top 12 in points allowed per possession during the regular season won an NBA title. The 2000-01 Lakers, who were 21st in defensive rating, are the lone outlier.

The Cavaliers rank 22nd in defensive rating this season and have been even worse lately.

But Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue says he has a plan. He just won’t reveal it yet.

Lue, via Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

“We’ve got to hold back. We can’t show our hand early because … these are some good teams and we don’t want them to be able to come into a series and be able to adjust to what we do. We just have to be able to play our normal defense until we get there and then we will see what happens.”

Also:

“I think the rebounding hurt us. Rebounding. But it will be different once some other things happen. … Their two-guards, their threes, they still crashed the boards. But we have something to fix that. Just not right now.”

What precisely those plans are, Lue wouldn’t tell us. And here’s the other part — he’s not exactly sure they’ll work.

“I’m not confident, but we’ve got to” get the defense fixed, Lue said. “We have to.”

The Cavs ranked just 10th in defensive rating last season, among the worst marks for an eventual champion. But they cranked up their defense in the playoffs, especially late. Cleveland held the Raptors 4.8 points per 100 possessions below their regular-season scoring rate and the Warriors 7.8 below theirs.

Lue also unleashed a 3-point-heavy attack in the playoffs last year after sitting on the strategy through the regular season.

So, I have some faith Lue will implement a better defensive gameplan when it counts. It also helps to have LeBron James, who can still play elite defense when not in the slog of a long regular season.

But the Cavaliers’ defensive deficiencies right now are glaring. This roster appears to lack defensive potential, and their many miscues keep them well below whatever that potential is.

The challenge in elevating this defense to championship-caliber will be immense, maybe even unprecedented.

Mavericks’ Salah Mejri dunks while getting shoved in the gut (video)

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The Mavericks built a 13-point lead over the Thunder with 3:30left thanks to plays like this Salah Mejri dunk on Nick Collison.

Unfortunately for Dallas, Russell Westbrook happened.

Willy Hernangomez dunks on Andre Drummond, Pistons’ playoff chances (video)

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Andre Drummond and the Pistons couldn’t slow down anything.

Not Willy Hernangomez. Not the Knicks. Not Detroit’s plummeting playoff hopes.

After a 109-95 loss to the Knicks last night, the Pistons — who’ve lost four straight and seven of eight — are 1.5 games and two teams out of playoff position.

Terrence Ross 360 dunks his way back into Raptors fans’ hearts (video)

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In his first appearance in Toronto since the Raptors traded him to the Magic, Terrence Ross did what he has done best throughout his career: Delight Toronto fans with a dunk.

And of course the fans appreciated it, because their Raptors cruised to a 131-112 win.