After the Cleveland Cavaliers gave up 70-plus points in the first half for the second time in two games, defense was the focus of coach Tyronn Lue’s post game press conference.
“I’m not confident, but we have to,” he said when asked if the team’s defense would get where it needed to be. “We have to.”
The Cavs are currently 22nd in defense on the year and 29th since the All-Star break. The only team worse on defense than the Cavs are the Los Angeles Lakers, who are openly trying to tank in hopes of keeping their first round draft pick. By comparison, the team was 10th in defensive rating last year and 12th after the All-Star break.
On Saturday, Lue described the Cavs’ defensive woes as a product of the regular season grind. Previously, the team’s defensive woes have been attributed to injuries and then to new personnel getting used to playing with each other.
“The big thing for us is at least we don't have to play back-to-backs in the playoffs,” he said. “I was upstairs talking to the coaches before I came down, and they said we played 21 games last year [in the playoffs] in two months. This month, we have 17 alone in one month, so it's a tough stretch, but everyone is going through it right now.”
Specifically, Lue pointed out that teams like to attack the Cavs in transition and that Kyrie Irving is defending more point guards since the team doesn’t like to use J.R. Smith the way they use Iman Shumpert. He also noted that Tristan Thompson, who the team would like to rest, will have to keep playing.
“When Tristan plays against those big centers, it’s tough on him. And to play every single night for four straight years, that’s a big reason why we started [Timofey Mozgov] last year,” Lue said. “You don’t want to have him wrestle big guys on a night-to-night basis. It’s tough on him. He’s the only center we have. He has to play right now.”
In the past, title winning teams - the 2001 Lakers, 1995 Houston Rockets and 1993 Chicago Bulls, for instance - have turned it on the postseason after subpar stretches in the regular season. The Cavs have to hope they’ll add their name to that list and that things will change in the postseason.
Vaguely, Lue said the team has tweaks in mind for the team’s defense and rebounding issues the team has seen when LeBron James moves to the five. He declined to say what they were.
“We gotta hold back. We can’t show our hand because these are good teams and we don’t want them to be able to adjust to what we do,” he said. “So, we just gotta play our normal defense until we get there and then we’ll see what happens.”