The Cavaliers have gotten off to a slow start this season, at least when compared to the wealth of talent on the roster that had preseason expectations in Cleveland at an all-time high.
Things got even slower on Sunday, when the Cavs dropped a home game by 23 points to a Pistons team that came into the contest with a record of just six wins against 23 losses to this point of the season.
Cleveland recently lost Anderson Varejao for the season due to injury, and was without Kyrie Irving for the second straight game thanks to a knee injury he reaggravated in the Christmas Day loss to the Heat. But things started fine in this one, with the Cavaliers getting out to a lead of 15 points early in the second quarter — before the wheels came off completely, the offense became stagnant, and the Pistons seemingly couldn’t miss.
Playing without 40 percent of your starting lineup, as it turns out, is no easy task. Detroit set a franchise record for three-pointers made with 17, and shot 54.8 percent from three-point distance while moving the ball consistently, and well ahead of the Cavaliers rotations. Cleveland, meanwhile, clearly missed Irving’s playmaking — he averages 37.9 minutes per game as the team’s point guard, and without him, the open looks were few and far between as Cleveland made just 17.2 percent of its shots from three-point distance, while launching 29 beyond-the-arc attempts.
With Varejao gone and no other real bigs to speak of, Andre Drummond had his way inside for most of the game, and finished with 16 points, 17 rebounds and five blocked shots. And with Irving gone, Brandon Jennings had one of his best outings of the season, finishing with a game high 25 points on 10-of-18 shooting — this from someone who came into this one shooting a little better than 37 percent from the field on a per-game basis.
LeBron James was far from even average, finishing just 5-of-19 from the field with 17 points, to go along with seven turnovers. And he had no trouble stating the obvious when discussing the loss afterward.
#Cavs LeBron James: “Right now we are not very good. In every aspect of the game”
That about sums it up.
Now, we probably shouldn’t take too much from a December loss, even one as painful as this. The missing pieces matter, and as long as Irving is back to full strength sometime soon, that will solve a lot of the problems offensively that were evident in this one.
But a bigger concern might be the lack of big man depth inside. Cleveland is going to have to try to make a move to add someone at some point this season, if indeed it wants to play deep into the postseason as was expected when this so-called super-team was assembled.
James took a knee to the quad before halftime, and was seen leaving the arena with a slight limp. His health is obviously paramount to his team’s chances, but so is his level of aggressiveness on the floor. And he simply has to bring it offensively on a regular basis (i.e., no more chill mode), especially on a night when the team’s second leading scorer was forced to sit it out.