by Doug Strahm, Top Market Sports
Things are starting to get serious in Cleveland, where the Cavaliers have about 30 games left to straighten things out before the real NBA season starts. Right now, all they have is confusion, finger-pointing, and a whole lot of defeats.
Things came to a head Saturday night in The Land, when the Cavs appeared dazed and more than a little confused in a 120-88 national TV loss to the Rockets. There’s no shame in losing to Houston (Cleveland was actually a 4-point home dog), which is ticketed for a spot in the Western finals, but the home team made it clear that the white flag was coming out early in this one. It was 66-39 at the half as LeBron and the Cavs were booed off the court. Nothing changed after the break, as the Rockets also handily outscored the Cavs in the third and fourth quarters.
Defense (or what passes as defense these days at Quicken Loans Arena) is a problem that won’t go away. Isaiah Thomas is ranked as the worst defensive guard in the league, though he insists that he’s not at full go yet. Jae Crowder has been benched, Kevin Love is out for a couple of months with a broken hand and James is pointing fingers at the front office for not bringing in another Robin to replace Kyrie Irving.
Predictably, those who have ignored the warning signs and stayed with Cleveland at the betting window have been taking a beating. The Cavs entered the week with a historically lousy 14-36-1 record ATS. How bad is it? If you had bet the Cavs between January 3rd and January 23rd (nine games), you would not have cashed once.
Through it all the Cavs have maintained some dignity in the East, thanks to a November/December 13-game (pre-Thomas) win streak, and no one seriously thinks the Cavs will miss the playoffs – where maybe they can crank up their generator and make another deep playoff run. Perhaps things will be different when they start to play for keeps and there's plenty of time for Cleveland’s aged vets to rest between games.
Amazingly, Cleveland is STILL favored to get to The Finals. The Cavs are 6/1 to get out of the East, with books obviously not sold on either the Celtics or the Raptors quite yet.
So the reigning Eastern Conference champs will march on, hoping for an adrenaline-producing trade or a commitment to defense that will energize the franchise and somehow show enough to convince LeBron to prove everyone wrong and stick around in northeast Ohio for at least another season.