Cleveland Cavaliers must emulate Miami Heat to become defensive force

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Bang, bang, bang. That accurately describes what happened on Saturday night in the Quicken Loans Arena.

The Cleveland Cavaliers blew out the Atlanta Hawks 127-94 whilst shooting 54.4% from the field and an astounding 61.3% from beyond the arc, breaking records in the process.

Saturday night's Cavalier team became the first team in NBA history to make 9 out of 9 triples in a quarter and broke the franchise record for the most three pointers made in a game with 19.

Finding their rhythm

The ball was moving, players were unselfish with the team registering 39 assists for their 49 field goals. This a stark contrast to their recent contest against the Utah Jazz where they only managed 6 assists.

It looks like the offense is finding itself lead by the ever unselfish LeBron and the scoring skills of Irving and Love. But a great offensive won't be enough to propel them to title-contending status.

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Defensive improvement

If they are going to lift the Larry O'Brien trophy at the end of the season then the Cleveland Cavaliers are going to have to improve on the defensive end.

'Defense wins championships' is a common phrase known to many basketball fans and players. It should be drilled into the mind of every young player because if you play good defense then you play hard.

The best defenders are always the ones who want it the most, the ones who will get the loose balls first, the ones with the biggest pride saying to themselves. "How dare he score on me!"

That's what the Cavs need, players that are willing to sacrifice their bodies in order to win. They don't have many good individual defenders, althought LeBron is the best defender in the game when he wants to be. Love is known as an unimpressive defender due to his lack of athleticism and Kyrie Irving has been criticised in the past for a lack of effect. The only player known for his defense other than James is Shawn Marion, but at 36 he's hardly the player he once was. 

In order to truly contend for the title, Coach Blatt and the Cavs are going to have become better defensively. After eight games the Cavs are ranked 28 out of 30 for opponent field-goal percentage at 48.4%. This has to improve.

Protecting the rim

The trouble is that the Cavs don't have a big man in the middle to stop easy shots at the rim. Having a shot-blocker anchoring your defense is essential. Just look at the stats.

Last year, the top two defenses with respect to points per game allowed and oppenent field-goal percentage were the Chicago Bulls and the Indiana Pacers. Those teams had Joakim Noah and Roy Hibbert respectively, both of whom are amazing rim protectors.

Having rim protection isn't just about protecting the cup, it allows your perimeter defenders to push up to take away three-pointers. This will force your oppenent into taking inefficient long 2s with the three point line and the rim taken away.

There was a rumour after the Cavs acquired Kevin Love that they were also looking to get Roy Hibbert from the Pacers. If that had gone through, the Cavs would easily be the title favourites because that is the only thing missing. But it looks like that trade will never happen.

In order to counteract the lack defense in the inside the Cavs will have to step it up on the outside. This means contesting threes, not allowing middle penetration and getting steals with the latter feeding LeBron and Kyrie in the open court on offense.

Making up for shortcomings

One of the main reasons why the Heat with LeBron were such a good defensive team without a great rim protector is that their rotations were perfect. Players on the floor knew who to close out and where the ball was going next, always chasing it down.

This defensive strategy is one the Cavaliers should emulate. Play with intelligence and a sense of urgency and thirst. This defense doesn't require a lot of athletes, just players who use their heads. Communication is key and LeBron needs to lead the way due to his experience.

People get on Kevin Love for his defense, and granted he isn't great. But he does something else which is just as important - he's a monster on the boards.

The other team can't score if they don't have the ball. If you reduce the number of possessions the other team has then you reduce the number of points they can potentially score. Love isn't the only person who should be crashing the glass. Every player should immediately look to box out as soon as the ball goes up and fighting to get their hands on the pumpkin. 

No I in Team

Every point I've made above is valid, but the real secret to playing great team defense is in the name. Team. Working together is by far the best method in order to achieve what you want.

Players must communicate, be equally hungry to play hard, win and not get too up or too down. There will be nights when you hold teams under 80 points, and times when you'll get lit up for 120 or more. The key is keeping your head and learning from one day to the next. If the Cavs can do this, then greatness awaits.

Cleveland Cavaliers
Central Division
Eastern Conference
Kevin Love
LeBron James

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