Saturday night, the Cavaliers were routed by the Rockets on a nationally televised game by 32 points, a game where Cleveland’s defense was listless. Two weeks before that, in another nationally televised game against one of the NBA’s best (Oklahoma City), Cleveland gave up 148 and lost by 24.
It’s been ugly, and not just on Saturday night — Cleveland has lost its last eight nationally televised games by an average of 18 points (stat via ESPN).
LeBron James said after the latest loss he doesn’t know why they struggle so much in these games, but he knows one solution — get the Cavaliers off of national television. Via Brian Windhorst of ESPN.
“I’m lost for words, actually,” James said, referring to the Cavs’ streak on national TV. “They should take us off every nationally televised game for the rest of the season. We haven’t played good ball and we get our butts kicked every time we play on national television, so I’m at a loss for words.”
LeBron was half joking, but just to be clear it’s not happening. The Cavaliers may be a train wreck, but train wrecks draw eyeballs. People tune in to see the carnage. So long as LeBron is in Cleveland they will be on national television. A lot.
Why is Cleveland struggling on nationally televised games? First, because they are not a good defensive team (28th in the NBA this season), and bad defensive teams lose games. Their offense took a step back this season and isn’t good enough to cover it up.
Second, because they are giving terrible efforts in these games (which is not going to cost Tyronn Lue his job). That starts with LeBron himself, who was slow to get back on defensive possessions in the first quarter against Houston and helped set a tone of lackadaisical effort that permeated the roster.
And finally, because these nationally televised games are almost always against other elite teams in the NBA, and those teams are light years ahead of the Cavs right now. People will tune in to see Cleveland vs. Houston, but switch out the Rockets for the Magic and who’s watching?