Cleveland Cavaliers' Injury Problems Finished What Slow Start Began

Greg Swartz@@CavsGregBRCleveland Cavaliers Lead WriterMarch 24, 2014

Feb 5, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving sits on the bench in the third quarter against the Los Angeles Lakers at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

When trying to win basketball games, or during life in general, procrastination is never a good thing.

Such was the case for the Cleveland Cavaliers this season.

The Cavs, as they do in many a game, began the year without a sense of urgency. Cleveland played with an undeserved arrogance, considering they won just 24 games a season ago.

Entering into the 2013-14 campaign, the main concern surrounding the team was actually health, given the injury histories of Andrew Bynum, Anderson Varejao and Kyrie Irving.

It was almost assumed the Cavs, if healthy, would grab one of the last playoff seeds in the Eastern Conference. Despite fielding a mostly injury-free roster, the Cavaliers still sputtered, collecting loss after disappointing loss.

Now sitting at 27-44, five-and-a-half games out of the playoffs, Cleveland's postseason chances have essentially been wiped out by a recent slew of injuries.

The Cavs can point to their list of sidelined players now all they want for an excuse, but really they have nothing to blame but their own poor play.

Here's how things went wrong and how they can learn from this doomed 2013-14 season moving forward.


Injuries Really a Big Factor?

Looking at Cleveland's injury list right now, one would think the Cavaliers had switched to the NFL.

All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving is out with a strained biceps tendon. C.J. Miles is sidelined with a sprained ankle. Luol Deng recently returned from his own ankle problem and has battled an Achilles injury for months. First-overall pick Anthony Bennett has a patellar strain in his left knee. Even Sergey Karasev, he of just 20 career games, is out with knee tendinitis.

The Cavs are suddenly scrambling for able bodies and have already called up players like Arinze Onuaku, Shane Edwards and now Seth Curry from the D-League.

While they seem to have hit a patch of bad luck on the injury standpoint, it hasn't always been this way.

Actually, the Cavaliers training staff as a whole has done a great job keeping players on the court. Cleveland did a complete overhaul of what it now refers to as its "performance team" in the offseason, according to Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal. The focus was shifted to the prevention of injuries instead of the reaction to them.

The results have been overly positive.

Oct 30, 2012; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving (2), center Anderson Varejao (17) and shooting guard Dion Waiters (3) celebrate in the fourth quarter against the Washington Wizards at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: D
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Andrew Bynum started the very first game of the season after missing all of last year following knee surgeries. Before being suspended, he played in 24 of a possible 28 games. Cleveland chose to hold him out of two back-to-backs, and the other two games were missed while Bynum attended to a family matter.

Kyrie Irving missed just three of his first 67 games before the freak bicep injury he suffered on March 16 against the Los Angeles Clippers.

Anderson Varejao has played his most games since 2009-10. After appearing in just 81 combined games the past three years, Varejao is already up to 56 this season.

For the second straight year, Tristan Thompson has appeared in every single game and Dion Waiters has appeared in 59 of 71 contests.

Cleveland's core really wasn't affected by missed time earlier in the season and therefore can't use all of the recent injuries as an excuse.


The Real Problem

I've complained enough about Mike Brown in the past, so we'll leave that one alone for now.

Another huge problem for Cleveland was its lack of energy, enthusiasm and overall complacency while on the court.

This started early in the season and has carried on for months now. C.J. Miles said it best following an early-season loss to the Charlotte Bobcats, telling Steve Reed of the Associated Press:

I think sometimes you dig in that hole and expend so much energy trying to get out of it, and I don’t want say we’re tired, but you don’t want to put yourself in that position where you battle back and then you’re in a real dogfight.

Too often the Cavs would come out flat, fall behind and then fail to dig themselves out of whatever hole they'd be in. A perfect example of such a game came against the Dallas Mavericks on Jan. 20. The Cavaliers found themselves down 24 in the second quarter, looking somewhat disinterested in the game itself.

Finally, they woke up in the second half and began to show signs of life. A 24-point lead was cut to 13 by the end of the third quarter and eventually to just two points in the fourth. Cleveland ended up losing 102-97 in a game where it showed effort for about 24 of the 48 total minutes. This has been quite the common occurrence this season. We saw a team capable of playing hard as a unit but, for whatever reason, often chose not to.

Part of it could have been the state of the Eastern Conference.

The bottom half of the East looked to be up for grabs well into January. Cleveland was dropping game after game yet wasn't losing any ground in the playoff race. There was no urgency to win, not with teams like the Charlotte Bobcats and Atlanta Hawks continuing to lose as well.

On Jan. 12, the Cavs were 13-23 yet remained just a game and a half out of the eighth seed in the East.

Somewhere along the line, a funny thing happened.

Teams like the Bobcats and Hawks started to win.

Since Feb. 18, Charlotte is 11-6 with a pair of four-game win streaks. Atlanta is 5-2 in its last seven games, with wins over the Toronto Raptors and Denver Nuggets.

Teams like the Bobcats began separating themselves from the Cavs in February.
Teams like the Bobcats began separating themselves from the Cavs in February.Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Suddenly, it wasn't OK to lose anymore. Teams with playoff aspirations were starting to separate themselves from the lottery-bound squads. It was time to stop messing around and start taking every game seriously.

The Cavs must not have gotten the memo.

Now at 27-44, Cleveland has fallen an insurmountable five-and-a-half games out of the playoffs with just 11 games to go.

At Cleveland's most desperate time, injuries have finally taken their toll.

The Cavaliers were never aggressive enough early in the season and are most certainly paying for it now.


Lesson Learned

The Cavs can't afford another slow start next year.

Guys like Irving, Waiters and Thompson have to remember this season and all the times they let games get away simply by not exerting 100 percent effort for all 48 minutes.

No team can afford to be lazy, especially not a young squad still looking for their first taste of the postseason.

It doesn't matter who Cleveland drafts, trades for or signs in free agency if it shows the same poor effort it has this year.

This season, much like the three before it, will end in a trip to the lottery.

With the lessons learned from this season and hopefully an improved roster over the summer, Cleveland can make sure the same mistakes from this year won't happen again.




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