The Cleveland Cavaliers were supposed to cruise to the top seed in the East and, in all likelihood, the NBA Finals. Well, slow down.
The Cavs (47-26) have gone 7-10 in their last 17 games and trail the Boston Celtics (48-26) by a half game in the East entering play March 29.
Should the Cavs be concerned right now?
“There definitely has to be concern,” Bleacher Report NBA writer Howard Beck said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “Every season, even the best teams are going to have some peaks and valleys. When you’re the defending champion and you’ve been to back-to-back Finals, there are going to be times where things maybe fall a little out of sync just because it’s hard to be dominant and focused and lasered in every night for a season. That’s why what the Warriors did last year was so impressive, at least in the regular season (winning 73 games). But that’s highly, highly unusual, to say the least. What the Cavs are going through right now, it’s hard to know exactly what to chalk it up to.”
It certainly hasn’t helped that J.R. Smith and Kevin Love have missed significant periods of time. Deron Williams, Derrick Williams and Kyle Korver, meanwhile, were all midseason additions, and the Andrew Bogut experiment flopped.
“There just hasn’t been a consistency in the rotation and a familiarity because they’ve added pieces, they’ve added back some of their own pieces that have been injured, and I think that sometimes can produce some messy results – and that’s what we’re seeing,” Beck said. “The East is tougher than it has been in recent years, so they are playing with fire a little bit.”
Indeed, the Wizards (46-28) and Raptors (45-29) trail the Cavs by just 1.5 and 2.5 games, respectively.
“Every year that LeBron’s been to the Finals – and remember he’s going for what would be a seventh straight NBA Finals, which would be just mind-blowing – every one of those years there was usually one other really good team. Boston some years, Chicago early on, Indiana a couple of years – there’s really never been more than one other good team, so you could coast through the first two rounds of the playoffs if you’re LeBron’s team. That’s not the case this season. Boston is legit. They’re not great-great. They don’t have multiple All-Stars, but they’re a really good, solid team. Toronto, when they got Kyle Lowry back and with the additions of (Serge) Ibaka and (PJ) Tucker, I think is going to be really tough. And I think Washington is very, very good. Any of those three teams are good enough that if the Cavs are still playing like this, those teams can beat them in a series. Now that’s the if. If the Cavs are back to who we expect them to be, then they’re still the odds-on-favorites. But that’s three pretty good teams, which means the Cavs at least are going to have potentially tough second- and third-round opponents. So we’ll see, but they really don’t have as much margin for error as they might have before.”