Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA. Or, what you missed yesterday while bingeing the new season of Stranger Things. For a second time.
1) What is wrong with the Cavaliers? It’s a combination of three things.It’s early. The NBA tends to follow form over the marathon of the season and especially in playoff series. Which is to say LeBron James is right when he said, “It’s a long season. It’s way too (early to judge]).”
That said, the Cavaliers have lost games to the Magic, Nets, Pelicans, and Knicks in four of their last five games — coach Tyronn Lue called the last one to New York “unacceptable. In those five games the Cavaliers have the second-worst defense in the NBA and have been outscored by 11.2 points per 100 possessions, The Cavs are now 3-4 on the season, and after opening night they had a very soft schedule. All of this gets viewed through the lens of LeBron making his decision on where to play next season.
What’s wrong? Here are three things I see.
• They are in a malaise on defense. Defense in the NBA starts with effort, and the Cavaliers have given almost none of it. This shows up mostly on defensive rotations, if a team can move the ball the Cavaliers fail to rotate and spot-up shooters are getting great looks. But it’s more than that, it’s guys slowly jogging back in transition defense (the not-so-speedy Knicks abused them here), or not helping in isolation situations. Part of this is personnel — if you play Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, and Kevin Love heavy minutes it will take a toll on your defense. Tyronn Lue said conditioning — the oldest team in the NBA, plus going to the Finals three straight seasons — has played a role. Okay, but the effort is not there, and that without that nothing happens.
• The offense hasn’t been good enough to cover the D up. In recent years when the Cavaliers have decided to take a vacation from playing defense, their offense was good enough to cover it and still get the team wins. Not this time. In their last five games the Cavaliers offense has been pretty much average (18th in the NBA). They haven’t shot the ball terribly well, or gotten enough easy buckets in transition. LeBron James has been brilliant, but the rest of the Cavs? This graphic from NBA Math sums it up well (using data from before the Knicks game).
• The Cavs are still trying to integrate a lot of new faces. This is the most hopeful thing for Cavaliers fans — this team should improve as the season goes along. They are integrating Jae Crowder and Dwyane Wade into the rotation, plus still getting Kevin Love used to being in the starting five. There were bound to be kinks, and some are being worked out (J.R. Smith now starting for Wade). Plus, they will get Isaiah Thomas back in January, boosting their depth and shooting. This team is going to get better and should be who we expected when it matters come the end of the season and playoffs. But now, they are off to a rough start.
2) Victor Oladipo drains stepback three to lift Pacers over Spurs. The Spurs are another power team in a little slump, they have lost two in a row on their road trip.
The latest came Sunday at the hands of the Indiana Pacers, on a Victor Oladipo step-back three over LaMarcus Aldridge — then watch Oladipo yell “This is my city” after the make.
3) Bradley Beal, Draymond Green dodge suspensions. I find it easier to predict the strike zone in Game 5 of the World Series (that thing was all over the place for both teams) than I do the NBA’s suspension vs. fine structure. I watched the fight below and thought suspensions were coming for Beal and Green.
Nope, Beal was fined $50,000 and Green $25,000. Our Dane Carbaugh estimated those salaries works out to 5.7 minutes of gameplay for Beal and 3.75 minutes for Green.
Kelly Oubre Jr. picked up a $15,000 fine for jumping into the fray.
The real punishments came down on the Wizards’ Markieff Morris and Carrick Felix, who will be suspended for a game apiece for leaving the bench during a fight. So just to be clear: Start a fight on the court, lose 4-6 minutes of salary, leave the bench during the fight get suspended for a game. That totally seems fair.