The Cleveland Cavaliers have had people scratching their heads at some of their recent defensive performances that has caused them to drop three of their last five games.
On Sunday night, the Cavaliers gave up 71 points in the first half to the Washington Wizards. Now, the Wizards are no push over, and a team the Cavs should be worried about it the playoffs, but this is not the only game in recent memory where there has been poor defense from Cleveland.
Since the All-Star break, only the Los Angeles Lakers are worse than the Cavaliers in Defensive Rating. Their Defensive Rating now sits at 115, better than only the Lakers’ mark of 115.7. One team is trying to win a second straight title, and the other team is trying to lose.
The Cavaliers are 6-8 in March thus far, and have only given up under 100 points twice this month.
People are saying that the Cavaliers are just saving their best defense for the playoffs. The Cavaliers can hold back all they want, but they are losing their lead over the Celtics as Boston is only .5 games back in the standings.
Head Coach Tyronn Lue told Cleveland.com that he is holding out their best defense, so teams will be caught off guard in the playoffs.
“We’ve got to hold back. We can’t show our hand early because … these are some good teams and we don’t want them to be able to come into a series and be able to adjust to what we do. We just have to be able to play our normal defense until we get there and then we will see what happens.”
“I think the rebounding hurt us. Rebounding. But it will be different once some other things happen. … Their two-guards, their threes, they still crashed the boards. But we have something to fix that. Just not right now.”
“I’m not confident, but we got to (fix the defense),” Lue said. “We have to.”
Over the past 40 years only three teams that finished the regular season outside the top 10 in defensive rating went on to win the Finals.
One of the main concerns for Cleveland is the interior defense. They have a consistent rim protector in Tristan Thompson, but are struggling to find a quality back up. They signed Andrew Bogut, but he suffered a fractured tibia in the first 58 seconds.
They signed Larry Sanders as insurance, but he recently got sent down to the D-League. It showed in their previous game vs. the Nuggets where Nikola Jokic scored 16 points and went 8-10 from the floor and the rest of the team had seven double-figure scorers. When the interior defense is lacking for Cleveland, it is hard for them to get into a rhythm.
The Cavaliers should be able to clean up the defense once the playoffs start. It is no secret that they may be holding off until the postseason.
Defense wins championships, so improving their defensive continuity should be Cleveland’s main focus going forward. The interior defense is something that should worry them more than anything else heading into April.