Despite being only one victory away from advancing to the Eastern Conference’s semi-finals (3-0 over the Indiana Pacers), the Cleveland Cavaliers still need to make many changes to their tactics in order to reach the NBA Finals and fight for the coveted title.
After turning things upside down and defeating the Golden State Warriors to claim their first-ever NBA title (4-3), Cleveland were considered the number one favourite to make it to the NBA Finals once again this year.
And that was exactly what happened until the All-Star Break in mid-February. Since then, though, things changed.
The team lost its momentum and suffered a series of unexpected defeats that put the number one seed in the Eastern Conference in serious jeopardy.
Not only did they make consecutive mediocre performances on both ends of the floor, but also let the Boston Celtics overtake them and finish first in the standings, earning the home-court advantage until the Conference Finals.
That said, Cleveland is now facing Paul George and the Indiana Pacers in the first round of the playoffs.
Even though they currently have the upper hand over their opponents, being victorious in the first three games, the Cavaliers should drastically enhance their performance in order to become a true title contender.
Due to an 11-15 record in the last 26 games of the regular season, LeBron James and his team-mates knew they had to play much better in the playoffs in order to avoid any major upsets.
So far, it seems the team’s biggest problem is the lack of chemistry, as only the squad’s big-three (James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love) has managed to make great and consistent performances, while their team-mates are still facing many ups and down.
Because of James’ complaints about the squad’s depth and talent, the administration was forced to make many changes to the active roster.
However, the newcomers haven’t fully adapted to Cleveland’s playing style, which significantly affects the team, especially defensively.
Although the defending champions look capable of dominating their opponents, they lose their concentration and let their opponents regain control of the game, playing very badly defensively as well as lowering their energy levels.
More specifically, during the first two matches, Cleveland saw Indiana come back from a 12 and 19-point deficit, respectively, being very close to a great victory on the road that would change the momentum in the series.
Furthermore, Cleveland let the Pacers earn a 26-point advantage in Game 3, only for the defending champions to turn things around and claim a crucial victory on the road (114-119).
That said, the weird thing about the Cavaliers is that they have shown no signs of improvement in the past 40 days or so, however they take advantage of their roster’s depth and James’ versatile playing style to prevail over their opponents.
But, the question now is: Can they go all the way to the end, if they continue that way?
I think, the answer is no. As the team will come closer to the Conference Finals, things will become more difficult and it will not be a surprise if the squad doesn’t make it to the Finals.
Because, it’s clear that Cleveland need to change their defensive plan and play tougher in order to prevent their opponents from scoring easy baskets as well as grab the rebounds.
Moreover, an improved defensive performance will enable the Cavaliers to score points in transition and be in a position of strength over their opponents.
It’s also worth mentioning that the squad finished the regular season with the ninth-worst defensive rating in the league as well as the second-worst defence in the NBA since the All-Star Break.
In addition, and in spite of having played almost 90 games since the beginning of the season, the defending champions need to raise their energy levels as well as their level of concentration.
For example, the “Cavs” missed 13 free throws in Game 1, while they made 19 turnovers in Game 2, giving the Pacers the opportunity to retain their chances to win the match.
And Cleveland’s coach, Tyronn Lue, should make all the players fully understand their role in the squad, as the team’s roster is consisted of versatile players that can offer decent solutions in more than one positions.
Concurrently, and despite being unstoppable in first-round series since 2012, James will not always be able to be at his very best and give his team-mates the victory, as the play-off series will go on.
Against the Pacers on Thursday night, the thee-time NBA Champion made an impressive triple-double (41 points, 12 rebounds, 13 assists) and led his squad to the win.
However, he will certainly need his team-mates to help him so as to fight for his fourth NBA Title.
More specifically, players like Deron Williams, JR Smith and Kyle Korver should start playing at much higher standards and act as the ideal supporting cast in the “King’s” effort to make history once again.
That said, the Cavaliers should rapidly enhance their performance on both ends of the floor, if they want to go all the way to the end.
Otherwise, their ambition to win back-to-back titles for the first time in their franchise history will undoubtedly come up short.