5 Takeaways from the Cleveland Cavaliers' Loss to the Toronto Raptors
With a Cleveland Cavaliers roster that seems to get more depleted as the days go by, the team has lost three straight after winning six in a row and has fallen five games out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Playing again without Dion Waiters, C.J. Miles and Anderson Varejao, the Cavaliers led heading into the final quarter and pushed the Toronto Raptors to the brink on Tuesday night. Kyrie Irving played a career-high 45 minutes in a 48-minute game and contributed 25 points and nine assists.
Valiant effort aside, though, Irving and the Cavs fell short by a final score of 99-93.
After a promising six-game winning streak brought hope into the trade deadline, a flurry of injuries have led to a three-game losing streak with a significantly tougher portion of the schedule on the horizon.
Take a look at five takeaways from the Cavaliers’ latest loss at the hands of DeMar DeRozan and the Toronto Raptors.
The Cavaliers Are Wildly Inconsistent
It is no secret that the Cavaliers have been incredibly inconsistent this season.
Despite bringing in Mike Brown to solidify a sputtering defense, the Cavaliers have struggled on both ends of the floor throughout the season. They are nearly playing .500 basketball at home, going 14-15 in 29 games, but their 8-21 record on the road is the reason for their place as the No. 10 team in the Eastern Conference.
After winning six consecutive games through early to mid-February, the Cavaliers have now lost three consecutive games against playoff teams.
During its winning streak, Cleveland was posting 103.8 points while giving up 93.7 points per game. They clawed their way up to No. 21 overall in the ESPN Power Rankings before the tides turned in the third quarter against the Toronto Raptors on Feb. 21 when injuries to Anderson Varejao, Dion Waiters and C.J. Miles finally stifled their momentum.
Since that loss, the Cavaliers are allowing 97.7 points while only mustering up 89.0 points per game. Worse, the Cavaliers have dropped two of those games on their home floor.
With a difficult part of their schedule on the horizon, the Cavaliers must be more consistent if they have any chance at challenging for one of the final spots in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Matthew Dellavedova and Jarrett Jack Need to Step Up
In the midst of their six-game winning streak, the Cavaliers were slowed by a variety of injuries.
C.J. Miles and Anderson Varejao continued to be hindered by their respective ailments and, most unfortunately, Dion Waiters went down with a knee injury.
With Miles and Waiters shelved for the time being, coach Mike Brown has been forced to turn to Jarrett Jack and Matthew Dellavedova to pick up the slack—neither of whom seems capable of filling that role. In the four games since Waiters was injured, Jack and Dellavedova have combined for just 14.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game. They have connected on just 4-of-20 field goals from three-point range and have been largely inefficient with or without Irving on the floor.
|vs. Orlando||14 (5-17 FG)||7||7|
|@ Toronto||14 (5-16 FG)||4||6|
|vs. Washington||8 (4-16 FG)||5||3|
|vs. Toronto||22 (9-16 FG)||6||6|
In fewer words: The Cavaliers miss Waiters in the rotation.
During their streak, Waiters and Irving were finally beginning to interact as teammates and (for the first time) seemed to be sharing the ball and playing well as a unit. Injuries, as they often do, have stymied that progress for now.
But, in the meantime, the Cavaliers must get more production out of Jack and Dellavedova. Cleveland needs a legitimate offensive threat to draw some attention away from Irving and allow him make plays within the Cavs offense.
With the current offensive contribution from their off-guard position, Cleveland may be in for a rough road with a difficult portion of the schedule just around the corner.
Kyrie Irving Is a Capable Double-Double Machine
Many questions have emerged this season about Kyrie Irving’s ability to lead a franchise to the promised land.
Much like with Russell Westbrook, critics see Irving as a score-first point guard whose seeming inability to improve his assist numbers is the lone deficiency to an otherwise exceptional offensive game.
In three games since the Cavaliers acquired Spencer Hawes from the Philadelphia 76ers, however, Irving has been an entirely different player. While his scoring numbers have decreased slightly, Irving is averaging 7.7 assists per game and is showing signs of taking the next step to becoming a double-double machine for the Cavaliers.
Given the absence of a legitimate offensive threat at shooting guard or in the post, Irving’s numbers have been incredibly productive. If general manager David Griffin can acquire a scorer via free agency or the draft this summer, Irving will make the next big step toward stardom in his NBA career.
Cleveland Must Re-Sign Spencer Hawes This Offseason
Spencer Hawes is the perfect fit.
At 7’1” and 245 pounds, Hawes is an exceptional complementary piece to the current Cavs roster. His ability to step out and knock down a jump shot spreads the floor and allows Irving, who is at his best when he attacks the rim, to penetrate and create for teammates. According to 82games.com, this season (including his time with the 76ers), Hawes has tallied 65 percent of his scoring plays on jump shots with 86 percent of those field goals coming off assists.
In three games since joining the Cavaliers, Hawes has averaged 12.7 points and 9.7 rebounds per game, all the while increasing the efficiency of Irving and Thompson. Although his scoring average has decreased slightly, Irving has seen his assist numbers increase drastically.
Also, the former 76ers big man does not take away the effectiveness of Tristan Thompson. Since Hawes joined the team, Thompson has averaged a double-double with 12.3 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. He has more space in the paint with which to maneuver since Hawes spends much of his time outside the painted area and has been the beneficiary of many of Irving’s assists.
With the Cavaliers’ overwhelming need—and desire—to sign a small forward via the draft or free agency this summer, a seasoned big man with the skill set of Hawes should not be overlooked.
In his first big move as the Cavaliers’ general manager, David Griffin acquired a talented young big man in Hawes. His next move should be to keep him in Cleveland.
The Cavs Will Not Make the Playoffs
Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert issued a public mandate before the season began that acknowledged one end-all, be-all goal for the 2013-14 Cleveland Cavaliers. The often-cited mythical goal of making the playoffs has been lurking in the shadows of a wildly inconsistent season, but, as Martin Rickman of SI.com wrote, the Cavaliers have yet to decide what type of playoff team they want to be.
Their current method of building a solid foundation (Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson) using draft picks and surrounding that core with productive veterans (Luol Deng, Jarrett Jack) requires both patience and precision—neither of which the current leadership has left.
After putting together a six-game winning streak from early to mid-February, general manager David Griffin elected to keep the currently assembled team and added Hawes to the mix. Since the deadline, however, the Cavaliers have lost three consecutive games to teams currently in the weakened Eastern Conference playoff picture.
And there are few easy games on the schedule to right the ship.
Cleveland will finish the month of February against Oklahoma City and Utah. After closing to within five games of the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference, the Cavaliers now sit five games out of the No. 8 spot and will be faced with a significantly tougher slate over the next several weeks.