Cavs’ Struggles Continue; Western Conference Looks Stronger Than Ever

Patrick Wareham

Sports Editor

What happened to the Cleveland Cavaliers?  After Saturday’s 120-88 thumping defeat to the Houston Rockets, it’s time to officially hit the panic button in Cleveland.  The loss dropped the Cavs to 0-8 in nationally televised games this season, as the team sits seven games behind the conference-leading Boston Celtics.

The Cavaliers’ biggest issue is on the defensive side of the ball, as they currently rank as the second-worst scoring defense in the East, allowing more than 109 points per contest.  A key factor in the squad’s porous defense is due to Cleveland’s age.  In terms of age weighted by minutes played, Cleveland’s roster is the oldest in the league.  The team lacks a true rim protector, with Tristan Thompson (6’9) listed as the only true center on the depth chart.  At times, LeBron James, who is in reality a small forward, plays the five, often giving up close to half a dozen inches on his opponent.  With Kevin Love injured, the offense is out of sync, and Coach Tyronn Lue appears to have no answers available any time soon.  Simply put, LeBron and the Cavs need to readjust, as sights on an appearance in a fourth straight NBA Finals is merely a pipe dream at the moment.

On the flip side of the Kyrie Irving-Isaiah Thomas deal, the Boston Celtics have cruised all season despite losing star acquisition Gordon Hayward in the first game of the season.  Irving has played outstanding, averaging over 24 points and five assists per contest.  He has been supported by excellent play from fellow All-Star Al Horford, who leads the team in rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals, as well as second-year Jaylen Brown, and rookie Jayson Tatum.  The Celtics appear to be firing on all cylinders as they run ahead of the rest of the pack in the East, picking up a morale-boosting victory over a quality Portland team last weekend.  With Irving, Marcus Morris, Marcus Smart, and Shane Larkin all out with injuries, the shorthanded Celtics captured a big win thanks to a Horford buzzer beater.

While the Celtics appear to be the team to beat in the East, again the crown for the league’s top team belongs to the Golden State Warriors.  Despite a recent eyebrow-raising 30-point defeat to the Jazz, the Warriors are indisputably the best team in basketball.  They rank atop the league both in points and assists per game, enjoying the luxury of four All-Stars, including arguably two of the world’s three best basketball players in Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant.  The Western Conference is deep yet again this season, however the Warriors’ only competition appears to be from the Houston Rockets, who sit within striking distance at a couple games back.  This year appears to be the Rockets’ best shot at knocking off Golden State, with Chris Paul and James Harden both having career seasons.   

The imbalance between the East and West once again favors the Western Conference Champion.  While the Celtics and Cavaliers are the two legitimate contenders in the East, with the Toronto Raptors on the bubble, the West boast five very talented teams, with Minnesota, San Antonio, and Oklahoma City joining Golden State and Houston in the race.  While the Celtics and Cavaliers will certainly have much easier paths to the Finals, the Western Conference Champion will have already proved it can outfight one of the NBA’s two best teams.  Then again, it is only the All-Star Break, and there is plenty of basketball to be played before the march towards May.

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