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Cavaliers face a week of must-win games

It's still early, but the Cavaliers' issues are getting old really fast. With a home-heavy schedule, it's time for them to start playing better basketball.

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David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Did LeBron James know what he was getting into when he left the comforts of Miami for a rebuilding project in Cleveland? Did he think it would be this hard? These are the same questions we were asking in 2011, and no matter how many times he and the Cavaliers dismiss comparisons between the two situations, they will inevitably follow him around until the Cavaliers establish their own winning identity.

A week ago, things seemed to be on the upswing. The Cavaliers followed up a nice win against New Orleans with a huge comeback against the Celtics and a definitive rout over the Hawks. But one week does not a transformation make, and nor is the wretched week that followed enough to label this a disaster.

Make no mistake, the Cavaliers have been disappointing. A learning curve is one thing and many of their weaknesses were expected, but teams with this much talent shouldn't be dropping home games to Denver. They shouldn't lose by 13 in Washington one night and by 17 at home against Toronto the following evening.

The issues may not have been a surprise, but they are troublesome. The defense is worse than expected, the depth is shallow and Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love haven't yet been able to adjust to what their new roles and responsibilities demand.

As of Monday morning, this is a mediocre basketball team. But this is the Eastern Conference and mediocrity is good enough to be in the playoff hunt. The Cavaliers have three home games this week against Orlando, Washington and Indiana. The Wizards' game is shaping up as a referendum, but if the Cavaliers are who they think they are, they should win all three.

We've been through all this before and as Mike Miller told me last week, there's a better understanding of the process for both players and fans. "Everybody wants it today," Miller said. "So do we. It's just not going to be that easy."

No, it's obviously not. But it is time for the Cavaliers to begin playing better ball. That's not too much to ask.

This is not a list of the best games of the week -- although some of them are -- or a schedule full of weird games only League Pass nerds would ever watch, even though a few of them are represented here as well. This is merely a list of the games we plan to focus on this week. (All games are local and League Pass broadcasts, unless noted).

MONDAY: Phoenix at Toronto (7:30 p.m.)

We knew Toronto would be a good team heading into the season. With everyone back from last year's 48-win campaign, the Raptors were the clear favorites in the Atlantic Division and a sure bet for the postseason.

But no one expected they would be this good. They have the league's second-most-efficient offense and the fifth-toughest defense, per Basketball-Reference. Those are contender rankings. Both will be put to the test against the surging Suns, who have won four straight.

TUESDAY: Golden State at Miami (7:30 p.m. NBATV)

The always-provocative Tim Kawakami raised an interesting point regarding the Warriors and their offseason pursuit of Kevin Love: The Dubs are better with Klay Thompson and Draymond Green (and injured David Lee) than they would have been with say, Love and Kevin Martin. In other words, the whole is better than the shiny new part, even if the part in question may be more talented.

Kawakami goes on to suggest that the rugged do-it-all Green is better for the Warriors than Love would have been, and while the analytical part of my brain disagrees, the subjective side thinks he may be right.

WEDNESDAY: Sacramento at Houston (8 p.m.)

Dwight Howard has long been the NBA's best big man. Even in an injury-depleted state the last few years, Howard remained the league's top big by default. But he's getting a challenge this year from DeMarcus Cousins, who is outproducing Howard in points and rebounds. Dwight is still the superior defender, and as he looks to get back in the lineup after getting plasma therapy on his knee, this should be a great early-season showdown.



FRIDAY: Memphis at Portland (10 p.m.)

One team is known for its stifling defense. The other is regarded as one of the most efficient offenses in the league. It's not surprising that the Grizzlies and Trail Blazers are off to good starts, but what is intriguing is the role reversal between the two teams. That defensive juggernaut Memphis is somehow scoring 108.8 points per 100 possessions (per B-ref), while high-flying Portland is holding teams to just 101.1 points per 100 on the defensive side. If those trends keep up, both of these teams have legit title aspirations.

SATURDAY: New Orleans at Washington (7 p.m. NBA-TV)

We can go on all day about Anthony Davis, but let's take a moment to try and make sense of the Wizards, who enter the week with a 9-3 record and are bolstered by the return of Bradley Beal. Without Beal, their offense has been sub-par, but thanks to a solid defense and one of the easiest schedules in the league, the Wizards won games they should win. That's an important step for a team trying to establish its place in the hierarchy, and Beal has been terrific since returning to the lineup. The Wizards are good, but they're not yet on the same level the Raptors have achieved.

SUNDAY: San Antonio at Boston (1 p.m.)

After some early-season signs of improvement, the Celtics are settling into a depressing pattern. They have a tendency to build early leads, only to lose them in the fourth quarter when their free-flowing offense gets stagnant. They are also getting routinely worked on the defensive end. No one expected the C's to be much of a factor this season, but all the fun and energy that defined the first few weeks is fading fast as moral victories have been replace by familiar losses. Not a good time to have the Spurs come in for their annual visit.


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