Luol Deng, Kevin Durant

Extra Pass: Cleveland Cavaliers built playoff-caliber team, but that won’t mean enough


The Cleveland Cavaliers are a playoff-caliber team that is extremely unlikely to make the playoffs.

With a 114-104 win Wednesday, the Cavaliers extended Oklahoma City Thunder’s losing streak to a season-high three games. Unlike the previous two teams to defeat the Thunder, the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Clippers, Cleveland is fancied by nobody as a title contender.

Really, the Cavaliers are a longshot to even make the postseason. But maybe we should stop considering Cleveland such a pushover.

The Cavaliers have gone 12-13 since acquiring Luol Deng, definitely the winning percentage of a playoff team in this year’s Eastern Conference. But their 11-23 start ties them down like Kyrie Irving’s contract keeps him in Cleveland.

They just can’t go anywhere.

At 23-36, the Cavaliers are four games out of playoff position. That might not seem like an impossible deficit – and it’s not. But at this stage of the season, it’s further out than most people realize.

The eighth-place Hawks are on pace to win 37 games. To best that – Atlanta has already clinched the tiebreaker over Cleveland – the Cavaliers would need to finish 14-9.

Cleveland hasn’t started a 23-game stretch with a record of 14-9 since LeBron played for the team.

It’s a shame the Cavaliers waited so long to trade for Deng and then Spencer Hawes, because they’re starting to get intriguing – by the standards of this Eastern Conference, at least.

Since Hawes joined the Cavaliers, their most used lineup has been Kyrie Irving-Jarrett Jack-Luol Deng-Tristan-Thompson-Hawes. Despite going 1-3 in their four games with Hawes, that lineup has really excelled:

  • Offensive rating: 112.8
  • Defensive rating: 102.8
  • Net rating: +10.0

By comparison, Cleveland second-most-used lineup in that span has featured Zeller in place of Hawes, and the results have been dismal:

  • Offensive rating: 85.6
  • Defensive rating: 115.6
  • Net rating: -30.0

To be fair, the lineup with Zeller has largely been positive over the full season (105.6/98.7/+6.9). The point isn’t that Hawes is the answer. Hawes is a different type of player – more skilled, more finesse – who helps the Cavaliers match up against a wider array of opponents.

This is what a playoff team, the team Dan Gilbert wanted all along, looks like. He, and his organization, just took too long to build it.

Before beating Oklahoma City, the Cavaliers lost three straight – two to the Raptors and one to the Wizards. The Raptors (trading Rudy Gay) and Wizards (trading for Marcin Gortat) will almost definitely make the playoffs, because they made their big moves sooner. Not only have those two teams won more because they’d had their improved rosters a longer portion of the season, they’ve developed chemistry for longer.

Cleveland is still finding its way, learning how its pieces fit together best. Already, the results are promising. By the end of the season, I’m really interested to see how good these Cavaliers can be.

But it’s almost definitely too late for them to translate that success into a playoff berth. Merely playing like a postseason team, when you start 11-23, is not enough.

After the season, Deng and Hawes will become free agents. Cleveland will be back at square one – likely not content with building the Eastern Conference’s best playoff team that wasn’t.

Mavericks’ Devin Harris sprains big toe, out at least three weeks

DALLAS, TX - SEPTEMBER 26:  Devin Harris #34 of the Dallas Mavericks poses for a portrait during the Dallas Mavericks Media Day held at American Airlines Center on September 26, 2016 in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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Devin Harris is the kind of veteran, versatile player Dallas coach Rick Carlisle likes in his backcourt — he can run the point or be a small two-guard off the ball. Carlise wants multiple ball handlers on the court and Harris allows him to do that with a number of different combinations.

Or rather, Harris will allow Carlisle to do that once he gets healthy. From Earl K. Sneed of

Harris had surgery on the big toe on his other foot, this injury is to the “good” one. Harris can be a bit injury prone and the Mavs likely will bring him along slowly.

This likely means more J.J. Barea and Seth Curry in the short term in Dallas.

Should Knicks let Derrick Rose run more pick-and-roll?

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 25:  Derrick Rose #25 of the New York Knicks drives to the net in the first quarter past Kevin Love #0 of the Cleveland Cavaliers on October 25, 2016 at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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Late in the blowout loss to the Cavaliers Tuesday, it was clear the Knicks were making a point of trying to run more triangle sets — it’s an offense a lot of their players are still just starting to learn and the game turned into a glorified practice.

On the night as a whole, Derrick Rose was his old self on his way to 17 points on 17 shots: 41.2 percent of his attempts came after seven or more dribbles and after he held the ball for at least six seconds. He took six shots as the pick-and-roll ball handler and hit two of them. (Carmelo Anthony shot 2-of-7 as the pick-and-roll ball handler.)

Should the Knicks put him in more pick-and-roll situations where he’s comfortable? Here are some postgame quotes, via Ian Begley of ESPN.

“Towards the end, when you saw us running it, it was just us trying to get used to it so it’s not that foreign,” Rose said. “We got a lot of room to make up on that side of the ball too.”

“He had that good explosion,” Hornacek said of Rose, who scored 17 points (7-for-17 shooting) in 29 minutes. “He’s just got to figure out all of the stuff that we’re doing, and he’ll be a big part of our team and really help us.”

“We want guys to feel comfortable with kind of who they are,” Anthony said. “We don’t want to try to change anybody’s game. If Derrick feels comfortable being up there in high pick-and-roll, that’s his game. You can’t take him away from that. You want to utilize guys’ strengths. That’s who he is, that’s who he’s always been. We want to rely on that. We don’t want to take that away from him.”

The triangle offense takes time to learn, and Rose has been honest that it’s going to take time. Which is the norm. When Phil Jackson took over the Shaq/Kobe Lakers in 2000 and led them to a championship the triangle got credit, but that Lakers’ offense had an almost identical points per possession as the season before (what won them the title was a vastly improved defense). It was in future years that the offense started to click with the players, after they had run it for a season or two.

The Knicks want to make the playoffs now, which may mean some triangle sacrifices. New York certainly played faster for much of the game against the Cavaliers, which should get them some easy buckets. They should let Rose run some pick-and-rolls where he’s comfortable, particularly drag screens early in the clock. Mostly, the Knicks need to keep the ball moving and the players moving, not let it stagnate into defendable isolation basketball (even if Anthony and Rose can make some plays that way). And in the halfcourt, run the triangle — but keep the ball moving.

One game against the defending champs is not going to define the Knicks season, but they also see where the bar is set. They have some work to do this season.

LeBron James, Dwyane Wade make fashionable World Series bet

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 30: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat shake hands during the first half at Quicken Loans Arena on October 30, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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LeBron James is an Akron guy born and raised, who is caught up in Indians fever like the rest of Northeast Ohio.

Dwyane Wade is Chicago born and raised, a Cubs fan who wants to see the team end its 108-year drought.

So the two have made a World Series bet — loser has to show up at the winner’s arena in the World Series champ’s gear.

After Game 1 — on the night he was collecting his latest ring — LeBron has to feel pretty good.

Either way, the payoff should be good.

Watch Utah’s Rodney Hood with monster dunk over Evan Turner

PORTLAND, OR - SEPTEMBER 25: Rodney Hood #5 of the Utah Jazz goes up for a dunk on Evan Turner #1 of the Portland Trail Blazers in the third quarter of an NBA game at the Moda Center on September 25, 2016 in Portland, Oregon. The Blazers won 113-104. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
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Evan Turner‘s Portland debut was a rough one: 1-of-7 shooting for three points, and while he did have five assists mostly he looked like a guy still trying to figure out how to play with his new teammates.

Oh, and he got dunked on by Rodney Hood.

That was not on Turner, he was on his man and just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Even if he instantly morphed into 1977 Bill Walton he’s still getting dunked on there. Hood had a strong night with 26 points for the Jazz.

Portland got the home-opening win behind 39 points from Damian Lillard.