It was not that long ago when the Cavs got off to their best three-game start to a season that did not involve LeBron James since the 2000-01 season. Now, these same Cavs are, to some degree, reeling after four of their last six games and are searching to get back to how good they looked back in December.
Sure, injuries to Kevin Love, rookie Isaac Okoro, Darius Garland and Dante Exum do not help because, in one way or another, they all contributed to the team’s 3-0 start.
Love provided 15 points and nine rebounds in his lone full game against the Detroit Pistons and Okoro has shown his defensive prowess since the preseason and had a plus/minus of +11.5 before getting hurt.
Meanwhile, Garland has taken large steps of improvement since his rookie year while averaging 19 points per game on 54.8% from the field, 50% from the perimeter and a combined plus/minus of +14.7. Exum has contributed 5 assists per game while shooting 62.5% from the field.
Andre Drummond seems to lack aggression at times, Cedi Osman started well but has been playing relatively sub-par since and while Larry Nance Jr. has been a bright spot at times with his improved playmaking and perimeter shooting, the duo of him and Collin Sexton (who is top-10 in the league in scoring) are simply not enough to keep the team afloat while players await their return.
Before a win Thursday against the Memphis Grizzlies, the Cavs were being outscored by 11 points and were shooting 40.8% from the floor over their last five games. Currently, the Cavs are scoring the second-lowest points per as a team and possess the second-worst offensive rating in the league at 102.2 points per 100 possessions. The only good takeaway is the team’s defense, which ranked first in the NBA in defensive rating as of Sunday.
None of these numbers, though, fare well for a team that wants to make this season’s play-in tournament with a schedule that features three games against the Milwaukee Bucks as well as games against the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers and the new-look Phoenix Suns over the next two months.
Not to mention, a five-game stretch against the Washington Wizards, Brooklyn Nets and Boston Celtics could directly affect if the Cavs make the tournament or not if the team continues to be a one-man show courtesy of Sexton at no fault of his own. Scoring a team-high 21 points during Tuesday’s contest against the Orlando Magic, Sexton has pushed a team record of scoring 20+ points in consecutive games to start the season to eight games.
The Bucks, Celtics and Nets all sit in the top-10 in terms of offensive rating. With key players out with injury for the Cavs, the team cannot reach its full potential as long as the team is not 100% healthy. Even the Wizards, currently possessing a 2-6 record, are just outside the top-10 in offensive rating.
No matter how you look at it, the Cavs are playing catch up in a conference with high-scoring teams that are also relatively healthy.
Currently sitting in seventh place in the Eastern Conference with a 5-5 record, the Cavs can go against preseason odds and make the tournament, but it desperately needs the likes of its best players to be healthy once again so that the team is at full strength heading down the final stretch of the season.