If I would’ve made a post with this exact title a year ago, I’d surely be referring to the Detroit Pistons and their failed roster revamp. The Pistons, who would have just committed $100 million in salary to free agents Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, would boast an 8-12 record, tight-roping the dividing line between the league’s best and worst teams. The Cavaliers on the other hand would draw only the tiniest bit of criticism, sitting a proud 15-5 atop the division.
I would yammer on about how a once great rivalry from the years of 2005-08 is dead, not just because of Joe Dumars’ inability to keep a championship core in tact, but also because of his attempts to keep the remainder of that core on life support. I would repeatedly preach how a team in Detroit’s position needs to blow up it up, forget the Rip Hamilton’s of the past, and suffer the pain of a few seasons with only a handful of wins. Then I would bash them for taking the opposite approach, signing former fan favorite Ben Wallace and issuing a five year $60 million deal to a guard entering his sixth season.
This year? This year I say that the Detroit Pistons have company, at least for the time being.
You see, the Cleveland Cavaliers have been showcasing some mediocrity as well this year, playing uninspiring basketball for stretches at a time. One of those stretches came Sunday night against the Pistons when the Cavaliers allowed Detroit to reel off eleven straight points early in the third quarter to take a 66-55 lead after the game had been tied. Ultimately, a deficit that this team should’ve been able to overcome was never cut to anything more manageable than eight points.
And such has been the case with the Cavaliers this year, particularly as of late. The same team that outworked a superior Boston Celtics squad in their season opener is routinely getting outplayed around the rim now. In their current four game losing skid the Cavs are getting outrebounded 182-147 and outscored in the paint 178-134. The same team that Byron Scott said wouldn’t lose a game because they were in worse shape than their opponent is consistently getting out-hustled. Over their past four games the Cavaliers have been outscored 62-46 in fastbreak points and haven’t won that category since their November 27th victory over the Memphis Grizzlies.
Such was the case Sunday night, when the Pistons took advantage of Cleveland for 17 fastbreak points, enabling their backcourt tandem of Rodney Stuckey and Richard Hamilton to combine for 51 points, each scoring more points individually than anyone on the Cavaliers’ roster.
Here’s the catch, though; The Cavaliers are playing so bad over this four game stretch that they’ve skipped over mediocrity to just plain bad. While back-to-back home losses by a combined 47 points to the Celtics and Heat are disappointing, they are somewhat understandable considering the talent on the other end of the court. What’s hard to stomach, however, are the most recent losses to the Minnesota Timberwolves and Detroit Pistons, two teams with a combined 12 wins, by a total of 44 points.
And it all culminated Sunday night, when two teams responsible for six straight Central division titles met and anchored the bottom two spots in the division with seven wins a piece. The Cavaliers have played so poorly over the last four games that Real Cavs Fans owner Ben asked fans on his twitter account what teams, if any, wouldn’t you trade the Cavaliers’ roster for and received only a handful of teams in the responses. Among those mentioned were Philadelphia, Toronto, Charlotte, and Detroit.
However, there are two sides to the story here. First is the current play, that projects the Cavaliers will never win consecutive games again, struggling to lose by fewer than ten points night in and night out. This is the Cavs team that, believe it or not, provides the most hope for next season and beyond. If the Cavaliers continue to play terribly and it reflects in their record, then they clear the way for a string of top five draft picks.
On the other hand, this can still be the same resilient team that has already responded to a multi-game losing streak with a three game road winning streak earlier in the year. In an 82 game season there are many ups and many downs, and this is the team that should frighten fans for the future. The team that isn’t quite good enough to make the playoffs, but good enough to spoil any hope of a top ten draft pick with fewer flaws than those players on the current roster.
So as I reflect on Sunday night’s loss, I struggle to identify which team is least painful presently. The team that defines mediocrity, responding to three point losses against the Kings with seven point wins against the 76ers, or the team that loses four straight games by 91 points.
While I understand that the latter paves the way for the future, the former is far less painful to watch on a nightly basis. Oh, how I wish I was writing this post exactly one year ago.
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