Random dribbles on the Cleveland Cavaliers as they continue their losing ways.
1. It’s been quite a run of futility for the Cavs (10-20), losers of nine in a row. And how bad have things become? Bad enough that they’re talking about areas of improvement after a 17-point defeat.
2. That came Friday, when the Cavs returned home to drop a 120-103 decision to the Denver Nuggets. It was a game in which Nuggets guard Jamal Murray lit up the Cavs for 50 points — without even so much as attempting a single free throw.
3. Afterward, Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff had this to say: “I thought we competed. That’s a step in the right direction. The Nuggets are a heckuva ballclub, Jamal Murray is a heckuva player. I think he made some difficult shots, contested, challenged shots. … So take your hat off to those guys, but I do think we improved in the areas we focused on.”
4. You know what, though? Bickerstaff is not wrong. Let’s try to remember the recent stretch of the schedule has been brutal — dating back to two weeks ago, when it all began with a home game against the mighty Los Angles Clippers.
5. After that, the Cavs got the Milwaukee Bucks two nights in a row. After that, they got a five-game trip out West against five opponents who are likely to make the playoffs. This stretch has also included two against the Nuggets.
7. You may not think that’s a big deal, but so often, the Cavs’ sets start with the power forward spot.
8. Now, none of this is to excuse the constant blowout losses. The Cavs need to start showing some more determination. Worse, they seem to have lost the belief that they can actually win. That will happen when you face a roster better than yours EVERY night — as the Cavs have done for almost two weeks.
9. But there is some light, as the Cavs get a home date with the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday night. I predict the streak will end. I predict the Cavs will finally win again.
10. If the Cavs should lose, well, then the issues are bigger than they are letting on. It will be about more than injuries, more than the Andre Drummond distraction (and yes, it’s a distraction). It will be about effort and perhaps some needed changes to the lineup.
11. I understand the Cavs want to keep throwing Isaac Okoro out there to defend some of the league’s best. The rookie small forward has defended everyone from LeBron James to Giannis Antetokounmpo to Damian Lillard. Understandably, he’s getting destroyed.
12. Overall, the Cavs are really hurting at that spot. Okoro, Cedi Osman and Dylan Windler have all been extremely hit-or-miss. Okoro has had way more misses. That’s not intended to rip the guy, because he does offer plenty of energy and has shown promise as the long-term starter. But no matter how the Cavs or some of their media minions try to spin it, he’s not starting material at the moment, or anything close.
13. Maybe Okoro would get more confidence and be more productive against other teams’ reserves. It’s one thing to throw a guy right into the fire. It’s quite another not to at least send the young man in with a water gun.
14. Along with that, Collin Sexton hasn’t been the same since his 42-point outburst vs. the Brooklyn Nets. He’s still the team’s best player, and I am a big Sexton fan. But opponents seem to be figuring him out a little. The idea being to keep him out of the lane and swarm him with double teams. He’s proven to be a very average passer when that happens.
15. As for Darius Garland, sorry, I’m not sold. Too much dribbling too often for my liking. If anyone is guilty off “hero ball” on the Cavs, it’s Garland.
16. Now, again, that’s OK. I’m not trashing Garland. I’m pulling for him. But the bottom line right now is he puts up numbers — but clearly, not numbers that translate to winning. He has to decide if he wants to try to be more like the next Stephen Curry, or next Stephon Marbury. Today, Garland isn’t showing he can turn into either.
17. I might attach Garland to a Drummond trade, just to give other teams an actual reason to trade for Drummond (as opposed to waiting for a buyout). With Garland included in a deal, the Cavs could get something back for Drummond. They won’t if Drummond is the only player involved.
18. That’s not me speaking, either. That’s coming from a handful of opposing general managers I’ve spoken to or texted over the past week. None would give up much for Drummond alone, given his expiring contract. But throw in a reason to raise their eyebrows, and each said he would take the chance.
19. Anyway, I’ve carried on long enough. I’m sure there will now be wailing and gnashing of teeth. But the Cavs need to at least make the playoff play-in game this season, or changes will (again) be on the way. Anything they can do to improve while staying the course should be considered.