The Cavs’ seventh loss of the season, a 110-91 loss to the Nuggets on Thursday, was not a particularly positive night. After a good first quarter, Cleveland was thoroughly outplayed and taken to town by one of the best teams in the West.
But this is a process and this a team that needs to look at the long run more than what’s right in front of them. So, here are five good things and five bad things from the Cavs’ loss to the Nuggets that was mostly bad, but had some positive moments.
Cedi Osman has a nice feel for the game
Osman wasn’t perfect against the Nuggets and had issues dealing with Jamal Murray and Gary Harris on both ends. His struggles making shots at the rim continued too.
But Osman also is a heady player, and is typically in the right spot on the floor. Notably, at the tail end of the Cavs’ first quarter win against the Nuggets, Osman went to the right spot after a pick-and-roll with Larry Nance Jr. didn’t result in a clean look for either player. So, when the Nuggets try to pin Nance on the baseline, Osman floats out to the top of the key and gets a wide-open three-pointer:
Osman has to get better at some basic things if he’s going to maximize his potential. But he has a good feel for the game at least.
Another Osman highlight
Again, Osman needs to get better at finishing at the rim and and he’s missing a good amount of makeable shots right now. But then he does stuff like this and you’re inclined to think that he just needs time and reps in order to figure it all out:
Tristan Thompson is good again
It would probably be better for the Cavs long-term if Larry Nance Jr. was as good, or better, than Tristan Thompson. And coming into the season, based on where Thompson was most of last season and Nance’s age, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think that Nance Jr. would be better this season.
But so far, Thompson has been far better than Nance. He’s not quite what he was in the 2016 Finals, but he’s back to being a hound on the offensive glass, doing a decent job protecting the rim and running the floor. Plays like this are exactly what the Cavs need from Thompson:
Thompson’s also in a unique place as the one guy on the team from the 2016 Finals team who is both healthy and playing right now. With J.R. Smith in purgatory, Channing Frye just hanging around and Kevin Love injured, he has to lead in a way he wasn’t before. His role is flipped from what it was when he was part of the first post-LeBron James franchise reset.
Post-game, Thompson spoke frankly about where the team is at and how the team has bad habits it has to break. It also wasn’t the first time this season that Thompson called attention to the Cavs’ lack of sustained effort this season. And it likely won’t be the last.
”For our team, like [Larry Drew] said, he hit it right on the head, the margin of error is so small that we can’t have those kind of screwups,” Thompson said. “We’ve got to be sharp every night just to give ourselves a chance to be in the ballgame.”
Sam Dekker at least tried on defense
Sam Dekker’s 3-10 shooting night and lack of a consistent three-point shot dampen any optimism about him. But, to his credit, he worked on defense against the Nuggets en route to three steals. Case in point:
That’s more than a lot of other players did.
One quarter of good defense
The defense implosed later, but the Cavs held a very good Nuggets offense (currently 12th in the league, per nba.com/stats) to 15 points in the first quarter. They were engaged, rotated well to prevent Denver from getting easy looks and stuck to the more conservative, non-switching scheme that Larry Drew has turned to. Denver shooting 35.7 percent from the field in the first quarter is proof of the Cavs maybe having their best defensive quarter of the season.
It’s not likely that this group can be good on defense or even passable. But if they can play with effort like they did in the first, it can be much, much better than they’ve been, at least in spurts.
Rodney Hood reverted back to his bad self
Hood followed up his best game as a Cavalier with maybe his worst game of the season. He missed two shots at the rim, took three bad, contested shots around the right block and was 0-3 from three on some decent looks:
Hood has historically been an inconsistent player, so this isn’t unexpected. And, to his credit, he did at least seek out more three-pointers than he has in other games this season. But Hood’s value is almost entirely derived from making shots. So if he’s not making them, what exactly is he offering?
Collin Sexton passed up a wide-open three-pointer
Collin Sexton’s shot is not a Markelle Fultz-like concern, but there’s no denying that he has a ways to go in order to become even a passable three-point shooter and not so reliant on mid-range shots. Against the Nuggets, Sexton passed up a wide-open three-pointer and dribbled into a two that he missed:
After the game, Sexton said that he is confident in his three-point shot and that he didn’t take this one because he took too long to shoot it and had to adjust. Which, sure. Larry Drew also said he was okay with Sexton’s decision to dribble into the long two.
“When we have gone down a few times and we have not scored, I don’t want to seek the first open three,” Drew said. “The open shot is not always the best shot, especially when you have trips and you haven’t scored. Right now, I would say that shot that he took, I can live with that.”
To be fair to Sexton, this is going to be an adjustment for him and it’s fair to wonder if he ever can be a good shooter. As noted by ESPN’s Mike Schmitz, he was not a good or high-volume catch-and-shoot player at Alabama. Eight games is not his career. And his 90 percent free throw mark is a reason to think he can figure out his shot. But it is worth noting how far he was to go, especially when he passes up that open of a look.
Jordan Clarkson was peak Jordan Clarkson
At first glance, Jordan Clarkson shooting 7-14 for 17 points is a good stat line. But then you look at it closer, see he missed all of his three-point attempts and had zero assists and you’re right be a little bit concerned. Clarkson, by the way, has the highest usage rate on the Cavs.
This is the type of shot Clarkson sought out against the Nuggets:
This is the guy that the Cavs are having play next to Sexton as part of their second most-used lineup so far this season.
Denver’s transition scoring killed the Cavs
Once the Nuggets got rolling, they killed the Cavs in transition and off of turnovers. On the night, the Nuggets had 16 fastbreak points vs. the Cavs’ eight. Off 14 Cleveland turnovers, Denver scored 19 points. By comparison, the Cavs scored 15 points on 12 Nuggets turnovers. Those are not huge differences, but they added up. And on first watch, it seems like it was a lack of consistent effort that doomed Cleveland’s defense.
“LeBron said four years ago guys are going to have bad habits because they just don’t know what it takes to win or to be in position to win,” Thompson said. “They don’t have enough wins on their resume to know what one looks like. Some guys win 25 games and think it’s a good season. That’s ass in the NBA, that’s terrible. Guys just have to learn how to break bad habits and that’s what we’re going to have to do.”
Additionally, the Nuggets were in another galaxy in terms of transition efficiency. Per Cleaning The Glass, Denver added 8.8 points per 100 possession in transition; the Cavs lost 3.5 points per 100 possession. A big reason for that may be because the Nuggets shot over 60 percent at the rim (accounting for 40 percent of their total shots, while the Cavs were at 52.2 percent (accounting for 46 percent of their shots.)