The strength of the Cavaliers through the first two months of the season has been the frontcourt. That has not been the case the past two games, however, and both have resulted in blowouts.
Kyrie Irving has struggled shooting the ball this season, Mike Brown has rotated through four different starting shooting guards and the Cavs have received minimal production out of the small forward position most of the season. But Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao and Andrew Bynum have consistently been the pillars of the team until this point, making the past two games disturbing.
Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah, the Chicago Bulls’ only healthy starters, combined for 30 points and 27 rebounds in the Bulls’ 16-point win Saturday. Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond combined for 50 points and 30 rebounds in the Detroit Pistons’ 23-point win Monday.
Meanwhile, Varejao and Bynum combined for two points and 11 rebounds Monday after Bynum missed all 11 of his shots.
That isn’t to blame the big men for all that has failed the Cavs the past two games, but rather to illustrate how difficult it is for this team to win when the big men don’t collectively play well.
Next up for the Cavs is tonight’s home game against the Atlanta Hawks, who built a 29-point lead against the Cavs three weeks ago and won easily on the strength of center Al Horford and power forward Paul Millsap.
“We can see the mistakes we’re making defensively. We can see on film our lack of physicality,” Brown said. “We’ll go though stretches where we try to pick it up ... then we revert right back after making a little run.
“It’s tough going down double digits, especially the deficits we’re facing, and trying to fight back and win a game.”
Most of the Cavs’ blowout losses have been on the road this season, but now they’re trickling into Quicken Loans Arena, too, after the Pistons destroyed them Monday in a game that was never close.
Reasons for the poor defensive execution have ranged from a lack of toughness to multiple defensive breakdowns — Brown said after Saturday’s loss at Chicago the players were running things defensively they’ve never even practiced. The latest theory is guys are letting their offensive problems affect their defensive effort.
That has never been accepted by Brown, who believes guys can play hard defensively whether their shots are falling or not, but he conceded for the first time Saturday the offensive problems might be infecting the defense.
Despite an offensive outburst last week, the Cavs are making about 43 percent of their shots to rank 26th in the league. C.J. Miles was so frustrated with his offensive slump that Fox Sports Ohio cameras caught him returning to the court well after Monday’s game ended to take extra shots.
“Our offense has affected our defense far too much this season,” Irving said. “When we’re not making shots, we’re so lackadaisical on the defensive end. Especially when our shots are not falling, we have to be solid on that [defensive] end.”
The last time the Cavs held an opponent under their season scoring average was Dec. 7 when they beat the Los Angeles Clippers 88-82. The Knicks matched their season average for the season and the Cavs’ other six opponents since then have exceeded it.
Brown threatened more lineup changes after Monday’s loss.
“I’m going to keep moving pieces and searching until I feel like I have a group of guys who are consistently playing at a high level defensively,” he said. “Making shots or not is one thing, we have to rebound, defend and be physical without fouling. We haven’t seen that in a while. We need to get back to that.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Cavs blog at https://ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.