Cavaliers hiding unimpressive defense behind record-setting playoff offense

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So much attention has been paid to the Cavaliers’ Swiss-cheese defense – for good reason.

If the Cavs win the title, Cleveland’s defense in the regular season would the worst or second-worst (in the running with the 2000-01 Lakers) for an eventual NBA champion. Cleveland allowed 115.5 points per 100 possessions to a middling Pacers in the first round – the worst defensive rating in a four-game sweep since at least 1984, as far back as Basketball-Reference records go. The Cavaliers clamped down against the Raptors in the second round, but Toronto’s offense falls apart in the playoffs annually. Against the Celtics in the conference finals, Cleveland looked its worst defensively after Isaiah Thomas got hurt and Boston switched to an equalitarian style that more closely resembles the Warriors.

Yet, the Cavs are here, four wins from their second straight NBA title.

Maybe we should give their offense a little more credit. Its carrying a historic load.

The Cavaliers are scoring 123.2 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs – on pace to smash the record in the 16-team postseason format (enacted in 1984). The difference between Cleveland’s offensive rating and No. 2 (1987 Lakers, 120.3) is greater than the difference between No. 2 and No. 11.

In simplest terms, the Cavs offense is built around LeBron James. If single-covered, he scores. If double-teamed, he passes to usually-open, usually-good 3-point-shooting team. Mix in Kyrie Irving‘s isolations, Kevin Love‘s outside-inside game and Tristan Thompson‘s offensive rebounding, and it’s just too much for opponents to handle.

The Cavaliers have made 43% of their 3-pointers and 56% of their 2-pointers and generated 27 free-throw attempts per game this postseason.

Their playoff offensive rating is 14.4 points better than the regular-season league average. That scoring has propped up a playoff defense at the regular-season league average.

The 2004 Pistons (playoff offensive rating 4.0 points worse than the regular-season league average that year, playoff defensive rating 10.5 points better) are the only team to reach the NBA Finals in the 16-team format with a great offense-defense disparity. Detroit is also the only team on the leaderboard with a better defense than offense.

Here are NBA Finalists since 1984 with the greatest disparity between playoff offensive and defensive ratings (relative to regular-season league average that year) through the first three rounds. The worse side of the ball is on the on the left, better side of the ball on the right and the difference in the middle:

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Cleveland rode a similar style to the title last year, but the split is even more pronounced this year.

Golden State also appears even more equipped to stop the Cavs. The Warriors had the second-best regular-season defense (up from fifth last year), and their defensive rating is tops in the playoffs.

Can the Cavaliers keep scoring at such a high rate? Can their defense flip the switch just enough in the Finals, as it did last year?

How the Cavs finish their season is still to be determined, but their path here sure was distinctive.

Report: Suns send Eric Bledsoe home, expect to trade him

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In a shocking twist, the Suns firing Earl Watson did not end the dysfunction in Phoenix.

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7:

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Bledsoe:

That is a first-rate tweet by Bledsoe. It’s great that he’s having fun with the wild situation, because the rest of us sure are amused peering in.

This was always going to be a long season in Phoenix, but things got out of hand in a hurry. The 0-3 Suns have been outscored by 92 – the worst three-game start in NBA history by 16 points. Now, comes the fallout.

At 27, Bledsoe was getting to be a little too old for a rebuild centered on Devin Booker, Josh Jackson, Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender and T.J. Warren. The Suns could have dealt Bledsoe in the offseason. Now, they’re negotiating from a position of weakness.

Bledsoe is a good starting point guard when healthy. He’s earning a reasonable $14.5 million this season and due $15 million in the final year of his contract next season. There should be suitors, and Phoenix can gain long-term assets while stepping up its tank.

But this sure seems like a crisis-control move more than anything else.

Willy Hernangomez ‘mad’ about falling from Knicks rotation

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Knicks president Steve Mills started his second tenure talking about rebuilding and listed Willy Hernangomez as a core piece.

But Hernangomez, coming off an All-Rookie first-team season, barely played in New York’s season-opening loss to the Thunder– drawing scrutiny.

Then, he didn’t play at all in a loss to the Pistons – eliciting a strong reaction from Hernangomez himself.

Hernangomez, via Fred Kerber of the New York Post:

“The same. I’m still mad,” Hernangomez said. “I cannot help the team win if I’m sitting on the bench. Two games in a row. It’s tough. I have to wait my moment. I cannot say nothing more.”

The Knicks are moving in different directions. Management is talking about building for the future. Coach Jeff Hornacek, who was hired by previous president Phil Jackson, is trying to win now.

There’s a fine line between developing Hernangomez through playing time and making him earn his minutes. Enes Kanter and Kyle O'Quinn might be better right now.

But being marginally better this season won’t get the Knicks anywhere meaningful except lower in the lottery. On the other hand, even on rebuilding teams, winning is most important to a coach’s job security. Earl Watson implemented the Suns’ tanking scheme, and look where that got him.

Hornacek is backed into a corner, and now one of the team’s most important young players is publicly expressing his displeasure. It’s the latest troubling sign in a locker room already suspicious of Hornacek.

Report: Eric Bledsoe requested trade from Suns before season

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Suns guard Eric Bledsoe tweeted yesterday:

In light of Phoenix’s 0-3 start and Earl Watson getting fired yesterday, that sure looks like a trade request. Still, there’s risk in making assumptions about vague tweets.

John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7:

Why wouldn’t Bledsoe want out? The 27-year-old is in his prime and stuck on a young team that would rather tank than play him.

It’ll be interesting to see how Bledsoe explains the tweet. He previously paid lip service to his situation in Phoenix, but it appears he’s ready to open up. On the other hand, public trade requests typically draw fines from the NBA.

Another Hornets backup PG injured

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Hornets backup point guard Michael Carter-Williamsout.

Nicolas Batum, who handled a lot of playmaking with Charlotte’s second units – out.

Julyan Stone, another Hornets backup point guard – out.

Hornets release:

The Charlotte Hornets announced today that guard Julyan Stone has suffered a Grade 2 strain of his left hamstring. The injury occurred in practice on Sunday, Oct. 22 and he did not travel with the team to Milwaukee.  Stone is listed as out for tonight’s game against the Bucks and his expected recovery time is estimated at four to six weeks.

The Hornets have been outscored by an astounding 35.8 points per 100 possessions without starter Kemba Walker, producing an offensive rating of just 61.4. That’s in just 23 minutes, but the problem dates back to last season, when Charlotte was outscored by 7.0 points per 100 possessions with a 100.7 offensive rating sans Walker.

Now, the Hornets have little choice but to turn to rookie Malik Monk. Monk is a scoring guard, but his 6-foot-3 size means he has at least worked on playing point guard. Is he ready to play the position full-time for a team eying the playoffs. Probably not, but he’ll just have to do his best to keep Charlotte afloat in the few minutes Walker rests.