If we’ve learned anything about the Cleveland Cavaliers since Tyronn Lue‘s promotion to head coach, it’s that the team has turned itself into a work in progress.
It seems like a strange thing to say about a 31-12 squad, one many assume can contend for a title. However, in the time since Cleveland axed David Blatt and made way for Lue, it’s pretty difficult to ignore the fact this team isn’t where it needs to be.
Lue is now 1-1 as head coach, but it’s tough to get excited about his lone victory. Though the Cavs bounced back from their sloppy loss to the Chicago Bulls by pulling off a victory against the Minnesota Timberwolves last night, it wasn’t exactly an inspiring game. The players are still showing a glaring lack of conditioning, and the defensive effort put forth left a lot to be desired.
A lot of this is due to Lue’s desire to quicken Cleveland’s pace offensively, a strategy the team hasn’t utilized up to this point in the season. Though it’s an admirable shift for the team’s new coach, we’re also learning very quickly that said shift is going to take a lot more work than initially thought.
Just as we saw in the loss to Chicago, last night’s game once again featured star players LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love asking to be subbed out earlier than usual. Though Cleveland significantly improved offensively, you could tell the players are still a ways away from being in the physical condition required for the new up-tempo offense.
This isn’t to say the Cavs aren’t ever going to be in good enough condition to function at a faster pace. However, we’re quickly learning that this shift in focus will come with significant growing pains.
What’s becoming noticeable is the up-tempo offense is having a draining effect on Cleveland’s defense. Chicago played well offensively on Saturday night, and the Timberwolves were able to shoot at nearly 50 percent yesterday. It’s becoming clear that as long as Cavs players are sucking wind thanks to playing at a faster pace, opponents will be able to take advantage offensively.
This is going to be one of the more significant issues coming from the new shift in tempo. On Saturday night, we saw how the exhaustion from a quickened pace can affect Cleveland’s offense, and last night we saw how it drains the defense. Though James claims it won’t take long for him to get conditioned enough to run the new offense, I wouldn’t be surprised if the team as a whole continues to struggle on both sides of the court for the next few weeks.
To clarify, I’m not suggesting this new strategy will derail Cleveland. However, it wouldn’t surprise me if the results of the past couple games are what we see from this team as it heads into the All-Star break.
The fact is the Cavs are making a very notable change in how they play midway through the season, and it’s one which will take a lot of getting used to regardless of who’s on the roster. The team certainly has the talent to play at a faster pace, but right now the players aren’t anywhere close to being ready to do so on a nightly basis.
I certainly admire what Lue is doing with this shift. Just like everyone else, he saw that playing as slow as the Cavs have been to this point isn’t going to lead to much success against the NBA‘s elite. At the same time, anyone expecting results to improve quickly is in for quite a shock.
While Cleveland may eventually excel at up-tempo basketball, it’s going to take a little while to get there. In the meantime, I would expect more games like the past two – complete with bad cardio and opponents taking advantage of it – for the time being.