CLEVELAND — The Cavaliers know they need to “man up” on defense.
The Cavs’ defensive issues are nothing new and certainly not a league secret. They have ranked near the bottom of the league in numerous categories all season, and Sunday night’s 112-92 loss to the Chicago Bulls served as one of the uglier examples of their defensive shortcomings. Entering the game, the Cavs were tied for 22nd in the league, with opponents averaging 111.6 points a game.
What’s worse is that the Bulls entered the game last in the league in scoring, averaging 100.6 points per game. It was only the second time in more than a month the Bulls topped 110 points. And it was their biggest win by point differential in more than a calendar year.
It was an ugly home loss in which the Cavs were defensively exposed. Coach Larry Drew cited a lack in energy and enthusiasm after the game in which the Cavs were slight favorites, a situation they won’t often find themselves in this season.
The Cavs are aware of their issues on defense. The question is how to fix it. Larry Nance Jr. doesn’t see it as an issue fixed by scheme or technique. It’s about something else.
“There’s very few aspects of defense that we are good at right now. The league knows that,” Nance said after the loss Sunday night. “That’s something that doesn’t get better with technique … it’s heart. It’s will. It’s something where we are letting guys have career nights on us.
“That’s something that we have to take personally. That’s kind of the message passed around the locker room after the game. We’ve got to man up.”
Drew added the Cavs have “no excuses” to not bring a higher level of energy every night. Without it, the Cavs can expect to be manhandled up and down the floor. As Drew guides the Cavs through a rough season, it’s one of his main messages.
"Even with what has taken place this season, and it hasn’t gone the way that obviously any of us had hoped that it would have gone — I never even imagined that I would be in this situation — but it is what it is,” Drew said Sunday night. “We still have a job to do. We have an obligation. We’re being paid to do [it]. Every night that we step out on that floor, we should play inspired and there’s no reason, there’s no excuse. … sometimes you just have to play the hand that’s dealt to you, and I feel that’s our story. And I refuse to allow our guys to make excuses for why we lost or why we didn’t play well.”
The Cavs have a couple of days off prior to their next game in Memphis on Wednesday. Nance called this recent stretch “vicious,” as the Cavs had played 14 games in 24 days, and noted the energy was obviously down. The hope in the locker room is that this break is enough to allow them some time to regroup and get their legs underneath them.
“We just played soft. We didn’t play tough,” said Cedi Osman, referring to the loss to the Bulls. “We didn’t take the challenge, that defensive challenge. … That’s what happened. I don’t think that actually — I know we’re a better team than this. And I know we’re going to have to step up now, everybody, against Memphis.”
Of any element, that defensive improvement is at the top of the Cavs’ Christmas list.
Ryan Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavaliers blog at www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter at @ByRyanLewis.