After a 3-1 start to the season, it has been a downhill slide for the reigning back-to-back-to-back Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers.
Losers of five of their last six games, including to the Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks and Atlanta Hawks, the team has been atrocious defensively, ranking dead-last in Defensive Rating and third-worst in the league in points per game allowed (113.4).
The loss of Kyrie Irving and the addition of Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, Jose Calderon, Jeff Green and the injured Isaiah Thomas has created clear early-season chemistry issues.
While there’s certainly plenty of time to right the ship in the long, 82-game regular season, the 4-6 start is alarming, to say the least.
After Cleveland’s embarrassing loss to the Hawks, who held the worst record in the NBA heading into their game on Sunday, Wade spoke out in criticism against the team’s starting lineup.
"It's no secret we're starting games off awful," Wade told reporters after the loss. "Terrible. And [Atlanta] got it going early, and the effort or the focus just wasn't there to start off, and you try to battle back, you waste a lot of energy trying to come back from 16-18 down, and it's tough nightly to do this… And we all know this. It's no secret in this locker room, but our first unit, we got to start off better.”
Kevin Love, who left that game with an illness, weighed in on the subject and agreed with his teammate.
"It was ugly," Love told Dave McMenamin of ESPN. "I don't know where that lack of -- I don't know if it's focus or energy… I saw what Dwyane said. He's exactly right. It would be nice if we were able to get on the second unit one time for giving something up but that hasn't been the case. ... We just can't keep putting ourselves in a situation like that.”
Other than LeBron James, who scored 26 points, the remaining Cavs starters (Love, Crowder, Rose and JR Smith) combined for just 25 on 9-of-29 shooting in the loss to the Hawks. Wade poured in 25 points and added 11 rebounds and six assists off the bench while Kyle Korver added 23 off the pine as well.
Although Love’s absence clearly hurt the team’s chances of winning, it was still expected that they would pull off the victory in front of their home crowd.
The struggles do not mean that Love is pessimistic about the team’s future. While he’s embarrassed, he seems hopeful about the future if the team creates a focus on two aspects of the game.
First, preparation in the film room and communicating game plans is key.
"Just have to keep attacking it," Love said. "Have to keep showing film and continue to keep talking about it. Make sure we're aware of it and I think guys are embarrassed and we should be embarrassed of how we're getting beat."
Secondly, pushing the ball up the floor with more consistency might be an area to focus on.
"We have guys that can shoot the ball," Love noted. "I don't know what it says on pace, but last year we really pushed the ball with Bron and Ky and really opened up the floor. But we're just not shooting the ball well from 3 and that has to change."
Heading into Tuesday’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks, Cleveland actually ranks 12th in the NBA in pace of play. They finished last season ranked 16th in that regard.
Nonetheless, we will see what adjustments the team makes in the near future.