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How far are the Cavs from being ready for the playoffs?

Before the All-Star break, the Cavaliers seemed to be dominating the league. The Cavaliers were tied for best win percentage (87.5%) as well as having the most points in the stretch at a sizable 121.4 per game. Mainly due to the crazy efficiency of LeBron James (who shot 63.4% from the field and 60.6 from three in that stretch) as well as Kyle Korver’s ability to play within the teams’ strengths (shooting 63.8% from three in the past eight games), the Cavaliers were able to produce the second highest field goal percentage of all teams in the last eight – 51.6% – and the highest three point percentage – 43.6%.

Looking at advanced, pace-adjusted stats begins to paint the same picture of offensive domination – the Cavaliers had the best Offensive Rating (a measure of points score per 100 possessions) – 121.8 – in the league during this stretch. In fact, this Offensive Rating was a full 4.5 points higher than the next best team, the Golden State Warriors. Per 100 possessions, the Cavaliers outscored their opponents by 10.9 points – second highest in the league.

However, things aren’t as perfect as they seem. While the Cavaliers have been firing on all cylinders offensively recently, their defense has been pretty terrible for a title contender. On the same stretch of games, the Cavaliers’ Defensive Rating (a measure of points given up per 100 possessions) – 110.9 – was the seventh worst in the league, and worse than teams like the Brooklyn Nets (who also went 0-8 during their last eight).  During these games, the Cavaliers secured 73.6% of all rebounds available while on defense, which is fifth worst in the league.

Looking at the last eight games, the Cavaliers allowed opponents to shoot 2.6% better than their season averages on three pointers, while also giving up the ninth worst opponent field goal percentage within five feet of the basket. One source of their poor ability to hinder opponent shooting may lie in NBA’s “Hustle Stats”. According to a metric for the number of shots contested, the Cavaliers contested the sixth least amount of shots in that small stretch of games.

In trying to identify more causes of the Cavaliers’ continued defensive issues, one can look at individual advanced stats per player over this range. While on the court, six Cavaliers game up over 110 points per 100 possessions (in order from worst to closest to average: Irving, Thompson, Liggins, Love, Shumpert, Felder). For comparison, while Kyrie Irving was on the floor, he had a Defensive Rating of 117.8, which is 2.9 worse than the worst team Defensive Rating in the NBA in this stretch, which belongs to the Denver Nuggets who allowed 114.9 points per 100 possessions. Of the Cavaliers who allowed under 110, only two allowed under 105 – Richard Jefferson and Derrick Williams. Richard Jefferson, though shooting abysmally during the stretch (36% from the field and 13.3% from three), managed to secure an individual Defensive Rating of 104.9. Derrick Williams comes as the most surprising – in addition to holding a Defensive Rating of 103.6 in the games he played, he also managed an individual Offensive Rating of 124.2 while on the court in the four games he played in (though it has to be noted that he has a smaller sample size than the others).

While the Cavaliers may be able to continue to rely on high-powered offense to power them through the regular season, things may not come as easy come playoffs. Their defensive issues continue to be as palpable as ever, as demonstrated by their stats these last eight games. This season, Kevin Love has held one of the Cavs’ best Defensive Ratings – with only Derrick Williams’ small sample size being better – so his absence will require the rest of the Cavaliers to step up even more on the defensive end. Once Love and JR Smith – who’s 104.6 Defensive Rating is tied for second best this season on the Cavaliers, if not including Derrick Williams’ – get back, things may start falling together easier for the Cavaliers on both ends, but presently, despite the satisfying scores they’ve been putting up, there is still a good deal to work on.

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