The Cleveland Cavaliers are 5-0 to begin the 2016-2017 NBA season. They’ve beaten the two teams predicted to be their biggest challengers in the Eastern Conference in the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics. They beat the Knicks by a ridiculous 117-88 margin on opening night, and sit comfortably as the league’s last unbeaten team. LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and even Kevin Love all look to be operating at a high level, and splitting the workload evenly. It’s about the best start that the team could ask for.
However, there may be some cause for concern. The Cavs are 5-0, but three of their four wins have involved the other team coming back to keep the game interesting late. Demar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas helped to keep Toronto within threatening distance during a strong third quarter in the Toronto win. Then against Orlando, the Cavs built a 22-point lead in the second half, but ended up winning by five thanks to some hot outside shooting from Evan Fournier and D.J. Augustin. And Thursday night, the Cavs once again jumped out to a big lead, only to watch it evaporate as Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley made a small mess of the Cavs’ perimeter defense.
Obviously the complacency the Cavs showed in the Magic and Celtics games are a tad concerning. The Raptors are a very good team, and it’s not surprising that game was close, but the Magic have looked very bad this season, and the Celtics were missing two of their best players and coming in on a back-to-back. It’s certainly concerning that the Cavs let those teams back in games, especially with several starters still playing.
But it’s also important to remember a few things about these games. For one thing, it’s still early in the season, and it’s not like the Cavs should be expected to be in February form. J.R. Smith is still playing himself into shape, somewhat. The Cavs are also experimenting with lineups, tinkering with units to create the optimum rotation to stagger minutes for the big three, and find ideal times to go to their more deadly lineups, like the Irving/Smith/Iman Shumpert/James/Love lineup that kept the Celtics at bay in the 4th quarter. In terms of execution, things should improve as familiarity improves.
It’s also important to note that while LeBron looks completely locked in, the championship hangover is real, and it’s not a surprise that the team as a whole is getting complacent once they get a lead. The Cavs aren’t really hitting fifth gear to close things out, because there’s no incentive to do so. Why keep your foot on the gas against this Magic team when you’re on a back-to-back? Even if you do lose, it can be chalked up as a schedule loss anyway. We’re exactly 6.1 percent through this season. There’s plenty of time for the Cavs to get on a roll and blow teams out.
And most importantly, the Cavs are 5-0. They are letting teams back into games, and then closing them out anyway. They are adjusting to whatever the other team is throwing at them, and executing their way to wins anyway. While Cavs fans are acutely aware that it’s not the best to build a big lead and then lose that lead, especially when you have the best record in the league, at the end of the day the Cavs are getting results regardless of process. And as that process continues to improve, the results should continue to be very good. At the end of the day, the Cavs are undefeated, and they still have room to improve. that’s a fantastic place to be.