Friday was not a productive night for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
In a 136-119 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, the Cavs lost a second straight game coming out of the All-Star break. And this was a worse performance than Thursday night against the Denver Nuggets. Thursday was at least competitive. The Hawks game wasn’t.
Cleveland, on a third game losing streak, the struggles have started on the defensive end.
Cavs defensive rating the last three games: 130.6 vs. Atlanta, 124.8 vs. Denver and 123.1 vs. Philadelphia.— Chris Manning (@cwmwrites) February 25, 2023
Came into tonight at 110.6, third best mark in the league. Only the Spurs have a worse defensive rating for the season vs. the Cavs' last three games.
It’s hard to win games when the defense is playing that bad. This is especially true for the Cavs, who are a defensive-first team. When Cleveland plays its best, it controls the game via defense and then does enough on offense to win. When the defense isn’t working, the whole way the Cavs play is upended.
Notably, Atlanta especially killed Cleveland in transition and off of live rebounds. That’s telling — it means the Cavs are getting beat via not getting back and matching up as they are supposed to. It’s the opposite of what’s made the Cavs good in the first place.
Rim and halfcourt struggles
Some numbers that tell a compelling story about the loss: Cleveland’s numbers in halfcourt and at rim. Per Cleaning The Glass, Cleveland had an offensive rating of 93.2 in the halfcourt. They converted 56.2% at the rim with 42% of theirs shots coming at the rim. On a night where Atlanta was cooking Cleveland’s defense, those aren’t good enough marks.
This is a problem to watch going forward. If the Cavs’ defense isn’t as good in a big game — maybe a pivotal playoff game — does the offensive have enough juice to keep a game close? And can it happen when it’s not Donovan Mitchell or Darius Garland going off? The evidence would suggest no.
Every game matters the rest of the way. Cleveland, on paper, has an easy schedule. But every loss against a team that they are better than for the season — and the Cavs are better than the Hawks — makes climbing in the standings harder. And, at this point with 20 games to go, Cleveland is facing an uphill battle to
Up next: The Cavs at back at home on Sunday hosting the Toronto Raptors. Tipoff is at 6 p.m.