Lots of talk about the elbow today. Cavs: The Blog’s official position on the elbow is “screw the elbow.” Allow me to elaborate on this. I am not saying the elbow is or is not injured. It may well be killing him. All I know is that it was healthy enough for LeBron to go off in game one of this series, and I don’t think LeBron got healthier in between the third and fourth quarters of game two.
I may well be wrong about this. I am not a doctor. But here’s what it boils down to: if LeBron’s elbow is really, really hurt and keeping him at 70-80% or lower, the Cavs are screwed. No chance of a championship. It’s done. Not even worth worrying about, in a strange way.
The elbow is beyond everyone on the team’s control. Other things the Cavaliers are doing poorly are not. Here are some of the non-elbow things the Cavs need to improve upon if the Cavs want to make it out of this series, let alone win a championship:
Defense used to be this team’s backbone. Shaq actually improved the team’s interior defense for much of the year. LeBron was just made a first team all-defense selection. Varejao made the all-defensive second team. Mike Brown is a defensive wizard.
In seven games against the Chicago Bulls (#28 in offensive efficiency this season) and the Boston Celtics (T-13th in offensive efficiency this season), the Cavs have given up 100 or more points in three of their seven playoff games. They haven’t held an opponent to under 90 points since game one of the Chicago series. That is ridiculous and unacceptable. (By the way, Orlando has allowed 90 points once in five playoff games.)
It’s not just teams getting hot or exploiting a mismatch or two — the Celtics and Bulls have gotten way too many easy baskets. The Cavs are relying on their offense to bail them out instead of making life miserable for opposing offenses on every possession like they’re capable of doing. That’s not a winning formula, especially not for this team.
2. Lack of inside scoring
This team has become increasingly reliant on its offense, and said offense has become increasingly reliant on jump shots. That’s not ideal. The Cavs have surrounded LeBron with outside shooters, but they’ve left themselves without enough players willing to take the ball strong to the basket. Delonte filled that role last season; he’s been replaced by AP in the starting lineup, and isn’t nearly as aggressive as he once was when he is in the game. Many of Andy’s minutes have gone to the more jumper-inclined Jamison, and Varejao hasn’t looked aggressive when he is playing. No more settling for contested jump shots early in the shot clock. That goes for everyone. Run the offense, move the ball and take it strong every. Single. Possession. Of course, part of the reason there isn’t enough inside scoring is…
He’s looked terrible. It’s one thing to be struggling against a post defender like Perkins. It’s quite another to have struggled against Chicago’s post defenders. I don’t know how healthy his thumb is, but he looks as out of rhythm in the post as he did at the beginning of the year. He needs to figure it out or sit down.
4. Failure to play the full 48
The pre-Mo Cavs kept the score close out of necessity and went to LeBron late in the game. Last year’s Cavs obliterated the teams that were worse than them, had LeBron bail them out against teams on their level, and got outclassed by elite teams, particularly on the road. This year’s teams plays to the level of their competition and counts on LeBron to bail them out nearly every night. They need to take care of business for the entire game if they want to beat Boston, Orlando, or whatever team comes out of the West. All the talk before the playoffs was about how the Cavs are in such a better mental place this season than they were last season. Well, last year’s team went 8-0 in the first two rounds. This year’s team is currently 5-2.
5. Play the game, not the scoreboard.
Getting a good possession is always the best option. This team seems to be ignorant of that. When they start a run, they go for the quick three instead of running the offense and continuing to do the things that started the run. It’s what kept them from putting away the Bulls in a few of those games, and it’s what happened when they began to threaten the Celtics in the fourth quarter of game two. Never stop attacking. Never stop looking for the best shot. Stop trying to be the hero.
6. Mo Williams
He needs to find a groove. He’s pressing right now. I will say that I feel like a lot of Mo’s struggles have come from Cleveland’s refusal to run their offense. Where have the back-screens been? Where have the corner dives been? They’ve run one or two scissor-cut plays. Where is the decoy pick-and-roll? Maybe Boston’s scouted their playbook, but they need to get back to going to Mo as a solid 2nd option on a given play rather than ignoring him and subsequently watching him try to force his way back into the offense.
All of those things and more are what the Cavs need to do to make it out of this series. Win in Boston or live in infamy. It’s about much more than the elbow.