Cavaliers Can Be Optimistic in Title Quest Despite Their Own Vulnerabilities

Greg Swartz@@CavsGregBRCleveland Cavaliers Lead WriterApril 25, 2016

Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving reacts after a 3-point basket during the second half in Game 4 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series, Sunday, April 24, 2016 in Auburn Hills, Mich. The Cavaliers defeated the Pistons 100-98 and swept the series. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

While it wasn't easy, the Cleveland Cavaliers became just the second NBA team to sweep their first-round opponent this season and are one step closer to a title.

The Cavs disposed of the pesky Detroit Pistons 100-98 in Game 4 of their first-round series Sunday night, ending what was a tougher-than-expected opening battle.

Now, Cleveland waits for the winner of the Atlanta Hawks-Boston Celtics series (tied at 2-2) to determine the next stepping stone to the NBA Finals.

The good news? The Cavaliers went a combined 5-1 against these two squads in the regular season and swept them both in last year's playoffs. After closing out Detroit in the minimum four games, Cleveland also gets some extra rest and prep time.

The bad news? They'll need it, as the Pistons potentially exposed a few cracks in the Cavs' armor.

While the postseason as a whole has kicked off favorably for the Cavaliers, a few areas still need to be tightened up for them to have a serious chance at a ring.

A Little Help?

Darron Cummings/Associated Press

Given the historic regular season we witnessed by the Golden State Warriors, it was presumed the Cavs would need help to have a shot at knocking off the defending champs.

Luckily for Cleveland, the rest of the playoffs appear to be shaking out in their favor.

Cleveland's disposal of Detroit means it likely won't play for several days, which is great news given the playing time of its stars. LeBron James was forced to log 41.3 minutes per game, while Kyrie Irving (37.8) and Kevin Love (36.0) carried a heavy burden as well.

The rest of the playoff tree is also favorable.

The Hawks and Celtics are beating up on one another, with neither serving as a serious threat. The Toronto Raptors, the No. 2 seed in the East, may not even make it out of the first round. They're tied with the No. 7 seed Indiana Pacers at two games apiece.

Cleveland's biggest threat in the East has long been the Miami Heat, who managed just 80 points in a Game 3 loss to the Charlotte Hornets. The Cavs are the only East team to have swept their opponent, with every other conference team displaying significant weaknesses.

The path to the Finals is looking clearer by the day, but what happens if they reach it?

David J. Phillip/Associated Press

The Cavaliers' best hope of knocking off the Warriors is largely determined by the early success of the San Antonio Spurs. It's almost a given the Dubs and Spurs will do battle in the Western Conference Finals, in a series that should run six or seven grueling games.

The faster Cleveland could speed through the East, earning more time to dissect their potential opponents, the better.

San Antonio easily swept the Memphis Grizzlies in their opening series, while Golden State has painfully watched reigning MVP Stephen Curry suffer both ankle and knee injuries, the latter of which we've yet to learn the severity.

What was supposed to be an easy sweep of the Houston Rockets has turned into at least a five-game affair—and possibly longer if Curry can't suit up again.

From a competitive standpoint, Cleveland should want to face a fully loaded Warriors squad in a rematch of last year's Finals, but there's no harm in wanting Golden State to have to labor along the way.

Improvements, Adjustments Needed

Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

As well as any other series may play out in the Cavaliers' favor, they'll need some internal improvements.

While the Cavs offense was fantastic against Detroit (115.8 offensive rating, first among playoff teams), the defense left much to be desired. Cleveland allowed 107.4 points per 100 possessions, ranking 11th out of 16 teams.

Part of the Cavaliers' problem was closing out on shooters. They averaged just 52.3 contested shots per game, 15th among playoff teams and well below the Hawks' leading mark of 78.3. This led to Detroit converting 47.8 percent of its total shots, including a solid 37.6 percent mark from downtown. Both numbers ranked among the top five.

If the Pistons (19th in scoring during the regular season) can reach this level of success, imagine what Atlanta, Miami or Golden State could do.

David Zalubowski/Associated Press

A main part of this was rim protection. The Pistons made 64.6 percent of their looks from within five feet, second-best in the NBA. Part of this was because Cleveland preferred a smaller lineup, benching leading shot-blocker Timofey Mozgov for the final two games.

Mozgov was pretty awful for much of the regular season and doesn't deserve minutes over Tristan Thompson or Kevin Love, but Cleveland can't afford to allow this many easy baskets, either.

The other major issue is pace. Cavs coach Tyronn Lue keeps preaching it, but stats consistently show that Cleveland is among the slowest teams. This opening round was no exception.

The Cavs-Pistons series averaged just 88.9 possessions per 48 minutes, by far the lowest of any first-round matchup. Cleveland has the athletes and personnel to play at a higher tempo, but it so often falls into lapses of repetitive, isolation play.

The beauty of having some time off allows the Cavaliers to review all of these minor problems while other teams continue to battle.

Overall, Cleveland has to feel far better about its title chances now than it did a week ago. Hopefully for the Cavs, this is a trend that continues.

Greg Swartz is the Cleveland Cavaliers Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @CavsGregBR.

Stats via Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com unless otherwise noted.

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