LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers are 4-6 in their last 10 games after dropping Wednesday’s contest to the Denver Nuggets.
There are grand expectations that come with being LeBron’s teammate. Those are enhanced when most members of that team are coming off the greatest comeback in NBA Playoffs history. On Wednesday, Denver hung 126 points on the reeling Cavaliers and James was not happy about it — and that’s being conservative.
“It ain’t about a group. It’s about individuals,” said James to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin. “We’ve got to be more, just do more. It ain’t about no group. You can’t preach toughness. You’ve got to have it.” The Nuggets, who are arguably the best offensive team post All-Star, put up 73 points in the first half on 59.2 percent shooting from the floor. They made shots from wherever and had no issues getting to the spots they wanted to get to. In addition to their volume, the game was executed perfectly, and the Nuggets had 20 assists on 29 made field goals; they had just six turnovers.
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Cleveland had a solid first half of their own on offense and put up 59 points on almost 49 percent shooting, but the effort on the opposite end was just dreadful.
Denver cooled off in the second half with just 53 points, and the Cavaliers actually kept them in relative check from the floor — the near 60 percent clip had dropped down 46.8. As odd as it may be, the potential league MVP was at the epicenter of the struggle. For the game, James posted a minus-30 plus-minus. The only other time this season his differential was this dreadful was Jan. 16 against Golden State when it was minus-32 in a 35-point blowout.
“Personally? I had opportunities where I could have been better,” said James before spinning the question. “Um, one thing about it: I always bring toughness to the game. I know that. That’s for sure.”
Since the All-Star Break, Cleveland’s defense hasn’t even resembled last year’s, and that’s a huge concern as the season winds down. They rank 23rd in points per game allowed (109.0) and 29th in efficiency (112.6 points per 100) — twenty-ninth! The Lakers are the only team worse in that category. (Also, thanks to NBA.com for providing those heart-breaking stats to Cavs’ fans.) For the year as a whole, Cleveland’s 22nd in efficiency and 21st in points allowed.
Probably the most concerning thing about the dropoff is that Cleveland retained 83 percent of their roster from last year, and that includes all of the guys who came up huge for them in the postseason. The reigning champs gave up the fourth-fewest points a night last year (98.3) and were the 10th most efficient team on that end (104.5). To avoid pinning the blame on poor execution, which most of it lands on, Cleveland has had some moving parts recently.
Kevin Love and J.R. Smith are still trying to get re-acclimated after coming back from injury, and the guys who filled in for them aren’t exactly ideal backups. If the Cavaliers can survive this grueling schedule coming up, which includes eight of their final 12 games against playoff teams, they’ll be in tremendous shape for the postseason.
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