There are two equally valid points to be made about the Cleveland Cavaliers at this moment.
Point the first: They are an old, flawed team that is struggling very much defensively because of mismatched personnel. Adding Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose to a team that already had defensive questions last season only serves to make the perimeter defense worse. Further, Jae Crowder is currently a far cry from what he was in Boston and the return of Isaiah Thomas, while very important to the team’s overall success, will likely do almost nothing to improve anything with one of the league’s worst defenses.
Point the second: The Cavaliers do. not. give. a. shit. right now. Their interest level in November basketball is about as high as Kate Upton’s interest in Chuck. After repeated trips to the Finals, the Cavs are mostly giving just enough effort to hang around within switch-flipping distance. While some middling teams see potential seeding ramifications in every win and loss, the Cavaliers aren’t fazed by falling to third or fourth.
“Nah,” JR Smith told B/R when asked if they’re paying attention to the league-leading Celtics. “It’s too early. Too early. We don’t start paying attention until after All-Star break when you see teams spacing out (in the standings). You start getting your best shot after the All-Star break.”
Smith cautioned, however, the Cavs can’t spend too much time playing catchup or it can come back to bite them in April, May and June.
“Last year we were coming off winning a championship (in 2016) and we got ahead of ourselves,” Smith said. “We should’ve been the one seed but Boston had a good year. We took steps further back when we shouldn’t have.”
The Cavs are only 5.5 games behind Boston which, I’ll agree with Smith, is fairly meaningless. Unless it’s your job, you shouldn’t be glancing at the standings before slicing up a nice can of congealed cranberry sauce (you know you love it).
As I’ve noted above, the Cavaliers have some serious deficiencies that are much more glaring than in the past. He can be blasé about the Celtics and other teams in the East, but if the Cavs aren’t careful, they’re going find nothing when they got to hit the switch.
The Celtics, meanwhile, will undoubtedly come back down to earth somewhat, but they’re built in a way that’s much more sustainable. There’s also a matter of the Celtics schedule eventually evening out.
The key date on the calendar is January 11. That’s when the Celtics play the Sixers in London. Boston has 25 more games between now and then, meaning they will have played 43 before crossing the pond.
After visiting Brooklyn on January 6th, the Celtics will have four full days off before playing Philly, which will allow them to travel overseas comfortably, get used to the time change, and play a game. The they have another four full days off to come home and re-acclimate before hosting New Orleans.
So as I’ve said before, the Celtics basically get a couple of All Star breaks before the home stretch. The Cavaliers will have three more games to play in that stretch, and both teams will close that portion of the schedule with 20 road games and five back-to-backs (though one of Boston’s is the Lakers and Clippers in Los Angeles so that makes it a tiny bit easier).
There’s no one thing the Cavs can point to and say “that’s where we catch them.” And as they get closer to the playoffs, the Cavs will end up resting LeBron a lot more often, giving them even less time to make up ground.
A lot can happen between now and whenever it is the Cavs wake up. In the meantime, the Celtics can ramp up the pressure by continuing to pile up wins and pushing the divide between the two team to an uncomfortable point. Dan Gilbert will not stand for losing any home revenue so if the Cavaliers somehow, some way, find themselves slipping at some point they may have to play harder than they wanted earlier than they thought they’d have to.
Then we’ll see how much JR Smith cares.