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Cleveland Cavaliers: Why are they having so many problems? — Terry Pluto


When you have LeBron James, coaching is hard…and easy.

Hard because of the “title or nothing” expectations. Hard because James is the sun in this basketball universe. It all revolves around him: front office, coaching staff and teammates. That’s also because he generates so much light and energy.

Eight straight trips to the NBA Finals demonstrates his value.

Coaching James is easy in that you are coaching one of the NBA’s greatest closers. It’s easy because James can create a shot whenever a play falls apart. It’s easy because having James means you’ll win far more games than you’ll lose.

It was only in his rookie season of 2003-04 that James had a losing record in the NBA.

It was that same season where the Cavs started 0-5. The same has happened to the team this season.

Tyronn Lue is having his first exposure to the reality faced by most NBA head coaches. No superstar. Suddenly the coach can look very overmatched.

Fair or not, that has been the case with Lue early this season.

“Our room for error is so slim right now,” Lue told the media after the Cavs lost 110-103 in Detroit Thursday.

It probably was their best game of the season. Kevin Love (foot injury) was out. The Pistons are off to a strong start with big men Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond presenting huge challenges for any team.

“When we’re supposed to box out, then box out,” said Lue. “When we’re supposed to switch, then switch.”

Lue wants to switch nearly every time on defense. It’s what a lot of NBA teams are doing right now. But it also creates some poor matchups for Cavs defenders.

Lue always wanted to coach a team similar to this, a team he could “teach and mold.” He has said that several times, even when James was with the Cavs.


For Lue, it’s welcome to the new world order of a post-LeBron universe.

He has been pushing his team “to play with pace,” meaning play fast. That is the direction of the modern NBA.

Run up the court and fire up 3-pointers.

Maybe the Cavs will be able to play his hyper-speed style, but I have major doubts. They lack the overall athleticism.

This is not a plea to go back to 80-point games of the 1990s. But it is begging for some common sense in terms of pace.

Too many guys just sprint down the court and unload shots with little thought given to…

I can’t finish the sentence because I don’t know what they are thinking at times.

It’s early in the season This story is being written after five games. Lots of time for things to change.

The Cavs ranked No. 9 in pace heading into their loss at Detroit. It has dropped after that, I’m sure. Lue wants to play faster.

Is that really a great idea?

Here is how the Cavs ranked in pace the previous four years with James, based on ESPN’s Hollinger Rating:

2017-18: 12th.

2016-17: 16th.

2015-16: 28th.

2014-15: 25th.

Trying to play faster has not helped the shooting: .440 from the field (No. 22) and .324 on 3-pointers (No. 24).

They are being outscored by 13 points a game, most in the NBA.

It seems the rushed shots on offense have led to confusion on defense — and easy shots for opponents. You saw that in the first home games, blowouts by Brooklyn and Atlanta.


1. I’m old school and old in general, so maybe this view should simply be dismissed — like someone advocating for a return to the 2-handed set shot. But there are times when I’d like to see them slow it down, running plays where the ball and people move.

2. There are ways to create open shots besides the “drive-and-kick” method so loved by today’s NBA. There has to be more to offense than a player driving to the rim while his teammates spread out on the 3-point arch – awaiting a pass. 

3. The Cavs are not a wildly athletic team. Of course, you want rookie Collin Sexton to bolt down the court and score. And you want Kevin Love to fire a long outlet pass to someone open down the court.

4. But discretion is advised. Pick your spots. Run some plays. Don’t keep the ball on one side of the court for most of a possession.

5. Basic stuff, but it’s often missing.


1.  The best player after five game is Jordan Clarkson. He’s a relentless shooter and scorer. He is one of the few Cavaliers who can consistently create his own shot off the dribble. He’s averaging 17 points and shooting 51 percent heading into the weekend. He’s only 26. He fits on the team.

2. Larry Nance also is 26. He recently signed a 4-year extension, meaning he’s under contract for five seasons. The Revere High product is unselfish. He is an excellent passer, hustles on defense. In 22 minutes a game, he’s averaging 8.0 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists.

3. I’m starting with Nance and Clarkson because they arrived in Cleveland via last season’s February trade with the Lakers. They are two valuable role players who can help the Cavs as they try to find a identity.

4. I don’t know how J.R. Smith fits on the team. He’s 32. He’s not played well the last two seasons. He’s scored seven points in 42 minutes, shooting 3-of-13 from the field. With nearly $19 million left on his contract, good luck trading him. Lue did praise Smith’s defense in the loss to the Pistons.

5. Rodney Hood has been an early-season disappointment. He’s averaging 11.0 points, shooting only .386 from the field. He is 1-of-9 on 3-pointers. He is 10-of-10 from the free throw line. He needs to be more aggressive, looking to drive and score.

6. I give credit to Tristan Thompson, who is averaging 10.8 rebounds in 28 minutes a game. He’s scoring 7.5 points and is one of the few Cavs making an effort on defense.

7. Kevin Love is putting up numbers: 19.0 points, 13.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists. But he’s shooting only .323 (.292 on 3-pointers) from the field. Defenses are swarming him. The Cavs also don’t seem to be putting him in good spots to score on the court. My plea for a more structured offense would help him.

8. I can’t explain this. Point guards George Hill and Collin Sexton are playing a combined 50 minutes a game. They play together a few minutes each game. But back to their 50 minutes on the court…they are combining for only 3.8 assists!

9. In this offense, the point guards don’t set up the other players. The leading assist man is Nance (4.3) followed by small forward Cedi Osman (3.8). It’s just very strange early in the season.

10. Sexton is off to a promising start. The 19-year-old rookie is averaging 10.3 points, shooting .457 from the field. His speed is eye-popping. He can score on driving layups with either hand. Sexton had only four assists in the first four games, then had five vs. the Pistons. That’s progress. Lue on Sexton: “He’s a scoring point guard, but we want him to grow into an all-around (point guard).”

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