It's January, and that means it's time to panic about the Cleveland Cavaliers


  • The Cleveland Cavaliers are once again stuck in a
    terrible January in which the team seems to be falling
  • Since LeBron James re-joined the Cavaliers in 2014,
    each January has been plagued by losing, infighting, and even
    coaching changes.
  • The Cavs always seem to snap out of it and come
    together in time for the postseason.
  • While this year’s team has serious issues on the court,
    the real test will come in the playoffs.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have lost seven of their last ten games
and have been the worst defensive team over that stretch.

They’ve given up over 125 points per game in their last three
games, and on Thursday lost to the Toronto Raptors, 133-99, their
second straight loss of 20 points or more.

Sure enough, the sound bytes were available after the game.

LeBron James snapped at a reporter
over the team’s defense.
Tyronn Lue said the team has
no room for “agendas.”
Kevin Love and James questioned the
statement. J.R. Smith questioned his role
to The Athletic’s Jason Lloyd

Indeed, the Cavaliers seem to be falling apart. There are real
reasons to be concerned. The roster is the oldest in the NBA,
they’d struggle to put a lineup on the floor that features good
defenders at each position, and they lack the shooting that made
previous Cavs teams so dangerous.


But Cavs drama in January has also become something of a yearly
tradition. It’s fairly easy to trace back since James joined the
team in 2014.

In 2015, James missed two weeks with a bad back and took a
mysterious trip to Miami. The
Cavs struggled badly
without him. On January 13, upon
returning amid an alleged rift with head coach David Blatt, James
made headlines when
he shoved Blatt away
from a ref to prevent a technical foul.
The optics were not great.

The Cavs went 24-9 from February 1 through the rest of the season
and made the Finals.

On January 22, 2016, the
Cavs fired Blatt
. Damning reports revealed that
James’ and his teammates’ attitude toward Blatt did not help

matters. Their struggles
even extended
all the way into late February, when the Cavs
lost to Eastern Conference up-and-comers in the Raptors and
Washington Wizards. The Cavs finished the season 15-8 and later
won the Finals.

Last season, on January 23,
James put the front office on blast
by saying the team needed
more playmakers. Then-GM
David Griffin even responded
, disagreeing with James’
assessment. 2017 proved to be something of an outlier, as the
Cavs went 10-14 from March 1 to the end of the season, but they
flipped the switch in the playoffs, going 12-1 to make the Finals

What’s highly possible each year is that James, the team’s
leader, a superstar who hasn’t missed the Finals since 2010,
grows somewhat disinterested by mid-season and it spreads through
the locker room. In recent years, it could be especially true as
he’s taken on more playmaking responsibilities and approached
defense only half-heartedly. January is the doldrums of the NBA
and teams eye the relief of the All-Star break in February.

James, now 33, competes in April, May, and June. He’s a player
who has admitted that he ramps up the intensity each month and

was only going 80%
, by his own assessment, earlier this year.

This year’s roster exacerbates those problems. Among the players
in the regular rotation are 36-year-old Dwyane Wade, 36-year-old
Kyle Korver, 36-year-old Jose Calderon, 32-year-old J.R. Smith,
and 31-year-old Jeff Green. A team enlisting a bunch of
30-year-old veterans with a sure path to at least May simply is
not going to go full throttle in January.

Take the Cavs’ half-hearted transition defense on Thursday for

Those are simple things that can be fixed in the postseason.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t reasons to worry. Last year’s Cavs
team possessed better shooters and defenders. After ranking 22nd
in defensive rating during the regular season, giving up 108
points per possession, they didn’t actually ramp up the defense
in the playoffs — they gave up 108.2 points per 100 possessions
in the postseason. They simply tried harder and steamrolled every
opponent with James fully engaged and surrounded by shooters.

This year’s team won’t magically flip a defensive switch and
defend like the Golden State Warriors, but they can fix some
effort issues. And offensively, they could improve once Isaiah
Thomas is fully healthy and acclimated, though he won’t help
their defense.

For all of the justifiable concerns about the Cavs, they are
still 26-15, third in the East, with an overall +45 point
differential. After beginning the season 5-7, they rattled off an
18-1 stretch before falling into the current slump.

The Cavs haven’t been good enough to justify a “relax, they’re
fine” message, and the red flags are big enough to justify real
concern. But once again, it’s January, the halfway-point of the
season, and the Cavs seem to be falling apart. We’ve been here
before, only for the Cavs to turn things around.

The real test, as always for a LeBron team, will come in the

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