Heading into the season, the mandate for the team was clear. The Cavs were going to come out and compete every night with the intention of winning. After the first two games, the team was sitting at 0-2. But the vision of what the team was trying to be and the style they wanted to play was coming into focus.
There was a noticeable difference in the pace and effort levels compared to last season. While the team fell behind by over 20 points in both games, they battled back to lose by a respectable margin and against Minnesota they even had a chance to steal the game. This was not something the team had done in the past, and they would typically pack their bags in when it wasn’t their night.
In fact, two of the Cavs worst losses last season were in Toronto (34 points) and in Minnesota (28 points). While both outings had the potential to turn into similar blowouts this season, instead the Cavs showed mental toughness and battled back into both games.
But that did not occur against the Hawks and that’s something the team needs to address heading into Wednesday’s game against the Brooklyn Nets.
After going up by 15 points, the team started to go away from what worked offensively. Cedi Osman was clearly pressing and by trying to avoid contact on his drives ended up throwing wild shots towards the rim. Collin Sexton had the opposite problem, trying so hard to draw the foul that the refs weren’t rewarding his reckless play with a whistle.
This isn’t the bare bones team that LeBron left behind in 2010. There are valuable role players and complimentary pieces. When Osman is putting up 22 points, 8 assists and playing a value-brand version of LeBron’s game the offense looks good. But the team struggled against Atlanta to stay within the offensive system they’ve been trying to implement.
As bad as things looked against the Hawks, it also would be premature to completely write this team off as a unit. Both Osman and Kevin Love barely played in the preseason and the team has had little time to play together against NBA level defense.
When things aren’t going well offensively, it’s easy to revert into hero-ball and try to get things done on your own. Jordan Clarkson and Rodney Hood both had moments of individual brilliance against the Hawks. The challenge now is to figure out what is working individually and work that into the team concept.
The end result of games isn’t something the Cavs should be too concerned about. While a few wins would certainly go a long way towards gaining confidence, working towards building chemistry has to be the top priority. If that comes at the expense of a few games, well it’ll likely help their position in next year’s draft.
The reality is the Cavs are going through more of a retooling year than a true rebuild. A core exists with a franchise player in Love. Both Sexton and Osman will have their struggles, but both come with an upside that’s exciting. Plus Larry Nance Jr. and Tristan Thompson both are quality role players and energy guys that can fit with the style they want to play.
If the development of Sexton and Osman is prioritized, it likely will result in an unattractive record in the win-loss column. But it’s the most important thing for this team’s future.
With building blocks in place and the new lottery odds removing the incentive to tear everything down, trying to win with the guys that are going to be here for the future has to be the top priority.
Moving forward the hope should be to see more games like the ones we saw against Toronto and Minnesota, and fewer like Atlanta. For the stretches of inconsistency to become less frequent and for the team to gain an understanding of what role everybody should be playing.
For a team that hasn’t played much together, the 105.9 offensive efficiency is far from abysmal. The defense will likely be a struggle without some shake-ups to the roster, but like the offense it too should improve to some extent with more time spent together.
This season is an adjustment from the past four years in Cleveland. Going from not caring about the regular season due a belief in their ability to flip the switch, to trying to make the most out of each possession and work to develop good habits.
How the team gets to each result is far more important than the actual result. The Cavs are trying to change their team culture and highlight who they will be as a team moving forward. We will learn a lot about how much work is still needed to achieve that goal by how the team responds to their loss against the Hawks.