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The Cavaliers' pick and roll defense is terrible

The Cavaliers boast one of the most explosive offensives in the NBA, but they won't win a championship unless their defense improves significantly.

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Bad games happen to good teams in the NBA. It's tough to consistently bring top-notch effort every single night, so great teams lose head-scratchers against opponents they should thump every season. That happened to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday night when they inexplicably lost at home to the struggling Denver Nuggets.

But while it's easy to chalk up the Cavaliers' loss as a clunker, the defeat highlighted a troubling issue that has plagued the team all season: poor defense.

Cleveland gave up 106 points in the loss, which marks the seventh time in nine games they've allowed over 100 points. The Cavaliers are giving up 108.3 points per 100 possessions on the season, which is fifth-worst in the league, per

Some of the struggles may be due to a bit of bad luck. Cavaliers opponents are shooting 47.2 percent on mid-range attempts, per, the highest mark in the league by 3.0 percent. One would think there will be some regression to the mean.

On the other hand, Cleveland is one of the worst teams in the league at protecting the rim. Cavaliers opponents are shooting a whopping 65.9 percent in the restricted area, per, the second-worst mark in the league. If we push the shooting range out to five feet and in, Cleveland is worst in the league at defending those shots.

There are several reasons for these major struggles. The Cavaliers don't exactly have many wing stoppers to limit dribble penetration, with both Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters renowned for being poor defenders. LeBron James has slipped a bit on that end, while Shawn Marion isn't what he once was. Looking at the rest of the roster, there's not really a plus wing defender in the bunch. It's no wonder Corey Brewer is reportedly on Cleveland's radar in trade talks.

In the frontcourt, nobody from the Kevin Love, Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson trio can really be described as a strong rim protector. Love certainly isn't; his habit of not always challenging shots in order to avoid fouls has come with him from Minnesota.

With sub-par wing defenders and rim protectors, the Cavaliers' issues really show when forced to defend pick-and-roll. Ty Lawson picked Cleveland apart over and over again Monday night, a sight that couldn't have made Cavaliers head coach David Blatt very happy.

On this play, Lawson put Waiters and Varejao in pick-and-roll. Lawson created some separation after Waiters lazily reached and Varejao can't recover back to Timofey Mozgov after a halfhearted show, resulting in an easy alley-oop (all clips via @gdfactoryclips):

Here, Lawson split Irving and Varejao in the pick-and-roll and got all the way to the rim with little resistance from Love before finding a wide open Wilson Chandler in the corner for a three:

Here, there appeared to be some miscommunication between Waiters and Love. Both Waiters and Love showed to the same side, and after Waiters went under the screen, Love was completely out of position to stop the dribble penetration:

The dynamic duo struck again later:

This last one isn't even a pick-and-roll problem, but it summarized the team's struggles. Wake up, LeBron:

The Cavaliers' offense will often be good enough to overcome these defensive woes. Even against the Nuggets, a more typical offensive effort likely gets a win.

But the defensive problems simply can't be ignored if Cleveland expects to win a championship. In the playoffs, when each possession is so crucial, these kinds of breakdowns can't consistently happen. Just look at the top competition in the Eastern Conference. The improved Chicago Bulls' offense has the ability to take major advantage of these issues, especially if Derrick Rose is at full strength, and they have an excellent defense to boot.

The Cavaliers have plenty of time to fix their defensive shortcomings, but there are legitimate questions as to whether their personnel is good enough to even have a league-average defense. Acquiring Brewer would help, although getting another big man is even more important.