Cavaliers' Losing Streak Shows How Much LeBron James Is Missed (But There's Hope!)

MIAMI FL - JANUARY 31: Ramon Sessions #3 of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks on dejected during a game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on January 31 2011 in Miami Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading and/or using this Photograph User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

The Cavs have died and gone to NBA Hell. There's light at the end of the tunnel, but the tunnel is long, dark and filled with losses.

That the Cleveland Cavaliers have fallen off the face of the Earth since losing LeBron James to gluttony and lust in July is neither surprising nor particularly notable. When you replaced the greatest player in the game with a trade exception and future draft picks, you shall suck. It's a decree Moses himself knew to be too obvious to need to be chiseled down.

We have some precedent, as it were: The Chicago Bulls completely fell apart when Michael Jordan retired (for the second time) and took Scottie Pippen, Phil Jackson and Dennis Rodman with him on his way out of town. When you break up a championship team, you're going to suffer for it. Even the L.A. Lakers found themselves in the NBA Draft lottery after trading Shaquille O'Neal in 2004 ... and they still had Kobe Bryant! The NBA is a star-driven league. When you build around a singular star and that star flees without replacing his own value via trade? You're toast.

The Cavs are toast that's been left in the oven for a few days, burning slowly until it's an unrecognizable plank of coal. Cleveland has suffered 21 straight losses, winning honors for the fifth worst streaking in NBA history. Three more losses would tie these Cavaliers to the dreadful 1982 Cavaliers for the worst losing streak -- 24 games -- in league history. That slide came over two seasons; the expansion Vancouver Grizzlies lost 23 straight during the 1995-1996 campaign.

Cleveland has the worst offense and defense in the league. Last year? The Cavs had the No. 6 offense and No. 7 defense. In fact, almost across the board this year's Cavs are not just worse than last year's edition, but substantially worse. (Click to enlarge.)

 

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The Cavs have improve in three areas: modestly in turnover rate and creation, and a decent amount in fouling. That's added up to a minor blip on the steaming plummet of the team, as suggested by the cumulative point margin graph below the rank comparison. You understand how good the Cavaliers were last season, with 61 wins? These Cavs are as bad as those Cavs were good. It's a complete reversal of fortune.

There's hope, though.

Even a record-breaking losing streak can't take away Cleveland's huge draft opportunity; the Cavs will almost certainly pick no worse than No. 4, and should have the best chance at No. 1. There's no Blake Griffin or John Wall in this draft class, but there are still quite good players -- Perry Jones, Kyrie Irving among them -- available. That will help. Health will help. Lost in the losing is that Anderson Varejao, perhaps the team's best player, has been lost to injury. Getting him back or trading him for value will help.

There's cap space, which the Cavs will be able to use to make a play toward second tier players or in trades. (Former Ohio State scholar-athlete Greg Oden will be a free agent, for what it's worth.) There's the clarity of gads of playing time that will allow the Cleveland front office to move with clarity in sussing out its mostly young roster. There's the likelihood that Antawn Jamison, a few months away from becoming a massive expiring contract, will be mercifully moved. There's Byron Scott, who is sticking this project out.

In the NBA, there's always hope. Sometimes you have to die in the ledger and erase all memory of the good times, but there's hope. Unfortunately for the Cavs and the people of northeast Ohio, that hope's on the other side of this losing streak, and there might be a bit more heartache before the sun shines on Cleveland again.

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