Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Cavs Look to Defense for Help

The Cavaliers may be struggling, but at least they know where their faults lie. Coach Brown’s approach last season focused on defense and turned out to be the Cavs’ calling card en-route to a second 50 win season. The Cavs’ seemed to have forgotten what made them so tough to beat though, slipping to the middle of the pack in many defensive categories. In Saturday's Plain Dealer, Brown admitted his coaching strategy had changed going into the preseason:

I came into training camp talking offense. I felt we understood defense and that we had the technical stuff down and we just needed to be more efficient offensively.

Through 31 games, Cleveland is just 14-17, sharing the 9th spot in the East with Philly. With all the discussion on the Cavs’ neglected defense, I expected their stats to be in decline. Rebounds, blocks, and steals are all about the same, but the bottom-line is how many points are surrendered. Cleveland is giving up 6.3 more points per game while teams are shooting 46% against them. Cleveland’s stats from ’07-’08 are average compared to the rest of the league. Below are Cleveland’s defensive stats from the last two seasons:

YearGamesWin Pct.Opp. PPGOpp. FG%RPGBPGTOSPG



That’s a huge difference on defense and has a lot to do with the Cavs poor season so far.

Cleveland has shown encouraging signs on defense lately. In their last five games, the Cavs have gone 3-2 (don’t nitpick, that’s above .500) and held the opposition to 90 points or less in four of those games. They’ve been turning the ball over less and played solid defense against the Mavericks and the surging Lakers. It’s a small sample size, but still counts as a step in the right direction for a team that seems to have lost its identity. Below are the Cavs’ defensive results from their last five games:

OpponentResultOpp. PtsOpp. FG%TO Differential*


Golden StateL10552.1+5



New OrleansL8641.9-5

*(Opp. - Cle)

Cleveland isn’t quite in a groove yet (see their ugly loss to New Orleans), but they are playing some of their best defense of the season and getting positive results. According to Coach Brown:

It's encouraging to see us win the right way. I've emphasized that end of the floor [defense] more and the guys have embraced it. I've done this with more drills in practice and showing more clips of us defending the right way and not the right way. The guys [now] understand what we have to do.

Hopefully the renewed approach will help smooth over those 2-point nights from Larry Hughes and diffuse any big runs from the other team with LeBron on the bench. The offense may have its warts, but that’s all the more reason to emphasize stout defensive play.

Another contributor to the Cavs' upswing is health. When was the last time Cleveland’s personnel were healthy and accounted for this season? Between the early holdouts, depleted bench, and LeBron’s finger, Cleveland’s projected starting five has not had a ton of opportunities to play together. The bench is still among the NBA’s worst, but fortunately for the Cavs all their key players are coming together as a team now.

On the Browns

This was a rough way to end the season. Brown’s fans essentially got burned twice as they suffered through last week’s game against the Bungles and Sunday’s debacle in Indy. The Colts had every right to blow their final game; it had no impact on them, win or lose. The worst part is that Tennessee was horrible against the Colt’s reserve corps. I bet Indy could have won handily if they had two or three more series with their starting offense in. If Dungy had put Manning back in and he got injured it would have been incredibly bad for Dungy (where else can you get this type of hard-hitting analysis?). So despite the big middle finger Tony Dungy gave Cleveland as he benched Peyton Manning early in the game, you can’t truly fault him. Cleveland missed their boat in Cincy when they coughed up a completely winnable game. Simple as that.

The Brown’s deserved to be in the playoffs, but I think they’ll have a better chance to go deep into the playoffs with the experience they picked up this season. Just as long as Pittsburgh gets destroyed by Jacksonville, it won’t feel so bad.

On the other hand, Cleveland had a great season. Edwards and Anderson emerged as stars, Jamal Lewis resurrected his career in orange and brown, no one got fired (except Frye), Chudzinski had an outstanding first year as offensive coordinator, the O-line is finally fixed, and a downtrodden franchise finally earned back some of the respect it used to command. Just to put it in perspective:

2006: 4-12

2007: 10-6

I always feel a bit awkward talking about the Browns, since I haven’t been a diehard like most of the fans, but I think the fans have plenty to be proud of this year. I’m still not used to all the positive coverage the national media outlets have been sending Cleveland’s way, so apparently they’ve been turning some heads. This season is just a building block too; these guys are only going to get better as the talent matures. When was the last time fans could truly look forward to football season without that feeling of dread in the back of their minds? Just wait ‘til next year…

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