Cleveland is off to a sloppy 3-4 start where LeBron James has been MVP-level brilliant (as always), and the rest of the team lags behind. It’s led to a lot of “what’s wrong with the Cavaliers?” talk early in the season.
The biggest problem is defensive — the Cavs are slow on rotations, the not-exactly-speedy Knicks just ran past them in transition on Sunday, and Cleveland just looks lackluster. The Cavs look a step slow. We’ve seen it before. The Cavs have taken mental vacations, particularly defensively, it’s just that in the past the offense covered a lot of that up and this year the offense isn’t there yet.
Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue has a theory about this malaise — it’s conditioning. Here’s what Lue said, via Joe Varden of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
“Guys got to get in better shape, we understand that. A lot of times when we make runs guys ask to come out because they’re tired. It’s got to be a balance, getting in shape, but also being smart.”
Cleveland has the oldest roster in the NBA (average age of 30), and older teams can move a little slow to start the season. Throw in that this team’s core has been to three straight Finals, and you can see why they may not move at light speed in October. Their focus is on peaking April, May and, hopefully, June.
We’ve seen some of the same things from Golden State, which is off to a slower start than expected. Everybody knows where these teams will be when the season ends, there is no panic.
Lue had one other interesting theory about the slow start, and it’s all the new faces in Cleveland getting used to playing with LeBron.
The other interesting theory Lue introduced tonight: some of the Cavs’ new players are struggling because playing alongside James is “intimidating.”
“Guys have got to understand that LeBron, he’s a giving person, he’s a giving player,” Lue said. “You’ve got to come in and play your game and we’ll adjust. I think a lot of times we defer to LeBron or guys are scared to be aggressive because of that. He’s not that type of player at all, so we’ve got to talk about that on Tuesday, guys being who you are, being aggressive and playing your game.”
We’re just nine percent of the way into the long grind of the NBA season, it is far, far too early to reach for the panic button. Or even remember where you put it.