They say defense wins championships, but if that’s the case, the Cleveland Cavaliers are dead in the water.
The Cavaliers got pummeled by the Washington Wizards on Saturday, 127-115. They allowed John Wall to scorch them for 37 points and 11 assists while Bradley Beal ran rampant for 27 points and 6 assists. The Wizards scored 71 points in the first half and watched seven players score in double digits. They shot 60 percent as a team.
It was a microcosm of how bad Cleveland has been defensively this season.
For the third straight game, Cleveland allowed an opponent to shoot 50 percent or better. The Cavs allowed Denver to score 73 first-half points, score 70 points in the paint, and shoot 42 percent from downtown.
After Saturday night, the Cavaliers ranked 23rd in the NBA in defensive efficiency, according to data from NBA.com, allowing 108.1 points per 100 possessions. For context, the New York Knicks rank 25th with a defensive rating of 108.8.
But since the All-Star break, Cleveland’s been even worse and has lost seven of its last 12 games to prove it.
The Cavaliers drop down to the second-worst team in defensive efficiency with a god-awful 113.5 rating since mid-February. The visibly tanking Los Angeles Lakers have been the only team with a worse defensive efficiency in that span, and that rating would be the worst in the NBA by a long shot if Cleveland sustained it for the entire season.
#Cavs Ty Lue on Tristan Thompson's nightly minutes: "He’s the only center we have. He has to play right now"— Chris Fedor (@ChrisFedor) March 26, 2017
Cleveland tried to address its issue by signing Andrew Bogut on the buyout market. But dreams of a bona fide paint protector were dashed when he fractured his tibia in his first game in a Cavaliers jersey.
The team has signed ex-Bucks big man Larry Sanders, but he is getting his footing with the team’s D-League affiliate Canton Charge team. He played two minutes in one game as a Cavalier and posted two points and three blocks in his only game with Canton last week.
The Cavaliers will find a way to get their defense together
That’s what champions do: They see a problem and fix it. But Cleveland has been incredibly lazy in the latter stretch of their season. So much so, they’ve relinquished the once air-tight grasp on the No. 1 seed and are now just a half-game in front of the Boston Celtics.
If you ask LeBron, the team just needs to have a little bit edge.
"It ain't about a group. It's about individuals," James said via ESPN after Cleveland’s 13-point loss to Denver on Wednesday. "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."
Having some help in the paint might help thing, too. It might be time to call-up Sanders for good.
The Raptors clinched a playoff spot for the fourth straight year with a win over Dallas.
After beating the Timberwolves on Saturday, the Trail Blazers are only one game behind the Denver Nuggets for the Western Conference’s eighth seed. Portland swapped centers with Denver at the trade deadline, snaking away their 2017 first-rounder in the process. How beautiful it would be if they snaked the eighth seed, too.
The Los Angeles Clippers advanced to a 44-30 record with a 108-95 win over the Utah Jazz. They’re now only a half-game behind Utah for the West’s fourth seed. That’s the difference between home-court advantage and Game 7 on the road.
Keep up with all playoff seeds and draft lottery races here.
Things that happened
Some tweets to laugh at
I interviewed Shaq in a hotel room. When he sat down, a leg of the chair snapped and he fell to the floor. "Happens all the time," he said.— Rob Tannenbaum (@tannenbaumr) March 25, 2017
Saturday’s top performances
John Wall: 37 points (14-of-21 shooting), 11 assists, 2 steals, 1 block
Wall might not be in the MVP discussion, two guards out West have something to say about that. But he’s propelled his Wizards to the third-best in the East. That’s got to be worth something.
LeBron James: 24 points (10-of-21 shooting), 11 rebounds, 8 assists
LeBron got the help he asked for. Now it’s time for The King to deliver.
Kawhi Leonard: 29 points (11-of-18 shooting, 4-of-6 on threes), 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 blocks, 1 steal
Leonard has lodged himself firmly into the MVP discussion. And if he continues to turn in 29-point efforts (albeit against the Knicks’ defense), it could be hard to deny him a vote.
C.J. McCollum: 32 points (11-of-13 shooting, 4-of-5 on threes), 4 rebounds, 4 assists
McCollum put up a near perfect shooting night, gunning his Trail Blazers within finger’s reach of the Western Conference playoff picture
Rudy Gobert: 26 points (10-of-13 shooting), 14 rebounds (7 offensive), 2 blocks
It’s time to give Gobert the Defensive Player of the Year award already. Seriously.