BOSTON: Thirty-two thoughts tonight, one for each of the Cavs’ 32 baskets following their 103-86 beatdown in Beantown…
1. There is a lot that doesn’t make sense about this season. (How an NBA team can miss so many layups and open shots for starters.) But here is what I’m struggling to understand lately.
2. Talk to anyone in the organization and they will insist the coaching this season is better than it has been the last three years. I’d have to agree. Say what you want about Mike Brown, but he has a terrific basketball mind and he’s a teacher. I saw it first-hand over the summer in Las Vegas when my 15-20 minute Q&A with him lasted 2 ½ hours. I think I learned more about basketball in those two hours (actually the final 45 minutes, which was mostly off the record BS) than I had since covering the NBA.
3. Toward the end of our talk, Brown started drawing up plays at the table. His cell phone was the lane, the salt and pepper shakers were defenders. I think there were a napkin holder and a glass of ice water involved… You get the idea.
4. Brown will talk basketball with anyone. He loves the game. He loves to teach the game. Most importantly, he holds guys accountable, which many in the organization grumble Scott’s regime never really did (and was one of the biggest reasons he’s no longer the coach).
5. So someone please explain to me how we’re nearing the quarter pole of the season and this team is on pace to finish with four fewer wins than last season’s abomination?
6. The defense is better, but still has plenty of lousy nights (like tonight). Byron never really ran a sophisticated offense. He never really installed his Princeton offense and instead just ran simple pick and rolls like most every other NBA team.
7. The Cavs have shifted more practice time lately to improving the offensive numbers. Brown was happy with the ball movement tonight, he liked the pace, he liked the way the Cavs balanced the floor. They simply missed a lot of open shots – an incredulous amount of open shots.
8. Brown counted 10 missed layups in the first quarter. I didn’t think it was that high, but Kyrie Irving went 1 for 3 on layups. That falls right in line with his season stats.
9. Irving entered the night credited with 121 drives to the rim, which for this purpose is defined as starting at least 20 feet away from the rim and getting within 10 feet (fast breaks aren’t included). That’s the sixth-most amount of drives by any player in the league.
10. But Irving is only converting 37.7 percent of those drives to the rim, which ranks 47th in the league (minimum 50 drives). He simply isn’t finishing as well as he has in the past.
11. Something has to give here, I’m just not sure what that is. Brown has used seven different lineups in 16 games. He has shuffled his rotation more than a deck of cards in Vegas. He tried Anthony Bennett at small forward tonight (more on that in a minute).
12. Yet another blowout loss has dropped the Cavs’ net rating to minus-9.7, which is third worst in the NBA. For those not familiar with the league’s advanced stats, the net rating is based on points scored and allowed per 100 possessions, which helps level the numbers field. The only teams getting outscored worse than the Cavs per 100 possessions are the Milwaukee Bucks (who already beat the Cavs) and the hapless Utah Jazz.
13. The Cavs’ wins are incredibly close and many of their losses are blowouts. It’s not as if the Cavs are losing a bunch of heartbreakers at the buzzer. There have been a couple of those, but their average margin of victory in their four wins is 3.5 (and two of those went to overtime). Their average margin of defeat is 13.4. Those numbers are alarming.
14. Brown is taking a risk by refusing to start Dion Waiters while C.J. Miles is injured. The Cavs have gotten zero offensive production out of their starting shooting guards and small forwards lately, which is a big reason for the offensive problems. Sergey Karasev took one shot and had one point in his first NBA start Friday (which lasted a total of 15 minutes). In the four games since Miles was injured, the Cavs have TOTALED 27 points combined between their starting shooting guards and small forwards. That’s 27 points in four games from the two most scoring-centric positions in the league. The Celtics’ Jeff Green had 31 points by himself Friday. Given that stat, it’s really no surprise the Cavs lost all those games.
15. Brown is publicly saying he doesn’t want to alter the chemistry of the second unit because they’re finally developing a bit of a rhythm, and while that may be true, the bigger message he’s delivering is to Waiters that his role on this team is as a reserve.
16. “I love Dion,” one player on the team told me recently. “But he just can’t play with the ball in his hands as much as he’s trying to.”
17. It was interesting to hear it put that way, since after Wednesday’s loss to the Heat, Waiters was the one talking about the need for the Cavs to share the ball more and give it up more often to the guy with the hot hand. Turns out, at least one of his teammates feels Waiters is the one who needs to give it up more.
18. Sometimes the timing of things makes me laugh. I asked Brown before the game (following his formal pregame availability) if he ever considered throwing Bennett into the starting lineup at small forward just to see what would happen. I mean, it can’t get any worse, right?
19. Maybe starting Bennett would jolt him out of this funk. Maybe playing alongside Kyrie Irving and Andrew Bynum for more minutes would get him better looks and spark him. Brown conceded he’d thought about it, but said it would have to feel like the right situation. He wasn’t going to just start flinging stuff against the wall to see what stuck.
20. Then 15 minutes into Friday’s game, he started flinging. He brought Bennett into the game and stuck him at small forward without many reps. And hey, why not? I mean really, what does he have to lose?
21. I’ll have more on the Bennett/small forward experiment in Sunday’s Beacon Journal. The whole reason I asked Mike about it before the game was for my Sunday column, so I can’t give away all the secrets now. But I think it’s something the Cavs should further explore.
22. Bennett really struggled defending Jeff Green, who is a power forward playing out of position and is merely an adequate small forward. But it wasn’t just Bennett. All the Cavs defenders made Green look like a star.
23. I’d hate to see what would happen to Bennett right now defensively against some of the league’s elite small forwards, but it’s probably his future position in this league, so they might as well get to work.
24. Kyrie Irving took ownership of the loss and this dismal start to the season after the game. “I’m taking full responsibility of all this,” Irving said. “Obviously we need a huge turnaround and we’re not getting it right now. The best thing we can do is just stay together. I don’t know how else to preach it. I’m the head of the snake of all this. I’ve just got to be better. I’ve got to do more.”
25. More Irving: “We’re facing adversity right now. Adversity tends to separate guys at times, but with this team we're doing a great job of staying focused and having that goal in mind. But like I said, it's starts with me. I've just got to be better and I will be a lot better.”
26. And then it was Waiters’ turn: “We can't come out like that. We've got to come out with a sense of urgency. We've got to throw the first punch. They threw the first punch tonight and I feel like we laid down.”
27. And more Waiters: “We've got to be men. We've got to grow up. This is no little boys league. This is a man's league. At the end of the day, we've got to bring it every single night, everybody out there on the same page. We've got to weather the storm.”
28. I agree with everything they said, and it’s nice to here them take ownership of this and say all the right things. But frankly, it’s time to stop talking and start performing. Irving and Waiters combined for nine assists and 10 turnovers Friday. Irving scored 17 points and at many times in the game had that, “Screw it, I’ll just do it myself” look. Can’t say I blame him.
29. Andrew Bynum has been unable to build off his impressive game against the Spurs. In his last two games, Bynum has totaled just eight points and nine rebounds.
30. I offer this up as fact with no commentary. The eighth seed in the Eastern Conference has averaged 38 victories over the last five years. In order for the Cavs to win 38 games this season, they’ll have to go 34-32 the rest of the way.
31. Finally, Brown told a funny story before the game about when his son, Elijah, was being recruited by Brad Stevens and Butler. Brown had already been fired by the Lakers when Kevin O’Neill was fired at USC and UCLA was about to fire Ben Howland. Elijah had made up his mind to attend Butler and the Browns were already planning on moving back to Ohio when Mike started getting nervous that Stevens would leave Butler for one of the two California college jobs. Then Stevens called Mike one day and asked if he was about to lose a recruit. Mike was confused, but Stevens was asking if Brown was going to take the UCLA job and take Elijah with him. “I thought you were going to UCLA,” Brown told Stevens. “No, I thought you were going to UCLA,” Stevens responded. “We were both like, ‘Whew!’” Brown said. Then Stevens left anyway for the Celtics and Elijah kept his commitment to Butler.
32. That’s it from Boston. I’ll see you tomorrow night at the Q when a reeling Bulls team faces the floundering Cavaliers.