The Cavaliers lost to an Anthony Davis-less New Orleans Pelicans team on Monday night. They lost despite a triple-double from LeBron, 22 points and 16 rebounds from Kevin Love and a 49-point outburst by Kyrie Irving. That seems impossible, but that’s how freaking thin the Cavaliers are right now. And its starting to frustrate LeBron.
It has been a year and 2 days since David Blatt was fired and replaced by Tyronn Lue. At the time the Cavaliers were #1 in the Eastern Conference, had won two straight games and had the 3rd best record in the NBA. Right now they have the 4th best record in the league and lost 5 of 7. We know LeBron James is a coach-killer, but Lue isn’t going to take the fall midseason.
The Cavs core core is the same as last year’s title team, but they’re still missing some notable contributors. J.R. Smith has been out since before Christmas with a thumb injury. Timofey Mozgov was a non-factor in the playoffs, but started most games and gave the Cavaliers another big body to throw out there night after night. This season he’s playing 21 minutes a game for the Lakers.
Matthew Dellavedova is another guy who fell out of the Cavs’ Finals rotation, but was a huge part of their Finals runs in both 2015 and 2016. He gave the Cavs defense, awkward, but effective shooting, and threw those ridiculous looking alley-oops to Tristan Thompson. He also played 24 minutes and night and appeared in 96 games last season. Now he’s giving those minutes to the Bucks to go along with a career-high 5.3 assists. The Cavaliers need a backup point guard, maybe they should have kept the one they had.
Instead they’re relying on 28-year old DeAndre Liggins, who played the last two seasons in Germany and the D-League, has already played more minutes this season than he has in his entire NBA career combined. Meanwhile, young guys Kay Felder and Jordan McRae have barely touched the court.
So what are the Cavaliers trying to make it work with? 36-year old Richard Jefferson is playing 19.3 minutes a game – his most in three seasons. Kyrie Irving is playing 3.5 minutes more than he was last season. Tristan Thompson is playing more than he has in either of the previous two seasons.
Most importantly, LeBron is playing 37.5 minutes a night. That’s nearly 2 more minutes than last season and his most since ’13-’14.
As indestructible as LeBron has always been and seems he always will be – and as upset as he makes local newspaper columnists when he actually does try to get some rest – he’s in his 14th season. LeBron has now played more than 1,000 regular seasons games in his career to go along with 199 playoff games. He’ll pass the 40,000 regular season minute mark this week and he’ll be in the top 30 in NBA history for minutes played by the end of the regular season. He’s 4th in playoff minutes logged. Another deep run this year and he’ll pass Kobe and Kareem. It’s time to slow down. Just a little bit!
Meanwhile, the Golden State Warriors’ Big 4 are all playing between 33.3 and 34.3 minutes a night. The Warriors have a dozen guys who have appeared in 75% of their games. They have a deep rotation and haven’t been dealing with injuries. The Cavaliers have 8 guys who have played in 75% of their games – 9 if you want to count Kyle Korver.
Obviously, this will all change in the playoffs. Rotations shorten. J.R Smith will return in the Spring. Korver will be more used to his new team. There will be options to add a more serviceable backup point guard. Still, the Cavaliers core has to work harder to hold onto the top spot. The Eastern Conference is tighter 1-14 than the West is 1-8. And the Cavaliers aren’t the only team looking to add another player. The Celtics and Raptors both consider themselves a player away.
The good news is, there is a lot of time left in the season for the Cavaliers to get healthy and sort all this out. The bad news is that there is a lot of time left in the season.