With LeBron James carrying them for a month, the Cavaliers reminded everyone why they are the favorites to win the East — Cleveland was 18-of-19 and were a top 10 defensive team again, proving they are the team to beat in the East.
But they have dropped three of four, all on the road, and the latest was to Sacramento where Vince Carter went off for 24 points on Cleveland’s “defense.” In their last 10 games, Cleveland has allowed 111.7 points per 100 possessions, 29th in the NBA (only ahead of a Jazz team without Rudy Gobert).
After the loss to the Kings, Dwayne Wade admitted the Cavaliers are sliding back into some old habits, speaking to Dave McMenamin of ESPN.
“Sometimes, when you’re winning as much as you’re winning, you have slippage,” Wade said of the 24-11 Cavs, who reeled off 18 wins in 19 games before their current dip. “We’ve had some slippage, and we’ve got to figure out a way to nip it in the bud before it becomes: ‘We in a rut, and we’ve got to get ourselves back out of it.'”
For a playoff bound team, particularly a contender, part of goal during the marathon of the NBA season is to build good habits, ones that the team can fall back on in the playoffs (and build on). The Cavaliers have certainly not done that consistently this season. They were a mess of a defensive team to start the season, straightened it out for a stretch, then have slipped back.
Cleveland today is also not the team they will be come the postseason. Isaiah Thomas will be healthy and have a significant role (how big and how well he plays remain to be seen). The rotations will evolve, and the Cavaliers making a move at the trade deadline (or picking up a quality veteran another team waives after it) could happen as well.
The Cavaliers are still the team to beat in the East, and if I had to pick one team out of the conference it would be them (I’m not betting against LeBron James in the Eastern Conference Finals until he loses at this point). But Cleveland looks vulnerable, and that defense is part of the reason. The “slippage” is part of that. It will be interesting to see what moves come as the trade deadline looms — will Milwaukee or Washington see all this and become more aggressive in adding another piece?