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Orbiting Cleveland: Preaching Patience for the Cleveland Cavaliers

Orbiting

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(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Numbers never lie?

Let’s put it to the test.

  • 25 — That’s where the Cleveland Cavaliers rank in opposing team’s field goal percentage this season with .466.

  • 16 — That’s where the Cavaliers’ offense ranks in regard to points per game (101.2). The team, equipped with LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love was supposed to steamroll through its opposition offensively, yet it’s proven to be nothing more than a middle-of-the-road team to this point.

  • 15 — The Cavaliers’ ranking in regard to team field goal percentage (.455). Again, this team was supposed to be an offensive juggernaut, but that’s just not yet been the case.

  • 19-15 — Cleveland’s record after 34 games this season. The record took another hit on Sunday after the team suffered a tough 109-90 loss at home against the Dallas Mavericks.

  • Two — The number of weeks that James will be out with nagging back and knee injuries.

  • 10-10 — Cleveland’s record vs. teams with a .500 record or greater.

  • 4-7 — The Cavaliers’ record against the Western Conference, which boasts the most talented teams in the NBA.
Clearly, not everything is okay in regard to the Cavaliers. The facts are black and white: As it stands, the Cavaliers are in fifth place in the Eastern Conference, and there’s a good chance that this team will not dig itself much further out of that hole.

The team received its latest round of bad news yesterday when it was announced that Irving will not travel with the Cavaliers to play the Philadelphia 76ers today due to a sore back. The extent of the injury is still now known, but this cannot be good news for a team already missing James.

To be fair, James warned us of this. He was meticulous when he said that patience would be needed from everyone — fans, teammates, the entire Cavaliers organization. Unfortunately, no one ever seemed to take him at his word.

Las Vegas and the bookmakers certainly didn’t. Prior to the start of the season, everyone had the Cavs penciled in as a top-two seed in the Eastern Conference with potential to be more.

But the reality is that things aren’t often what they seem. The reality is also this: We should have seen this coming.

From the moment that the Cavaliers started to reshape the roster, critics clamored that the defense would be a problem.

The departure of No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Wiggins signaled that the Cavaliers wanted to build around offense, rather than defense. Wiggins profiled as an elite defender from the getgo, and he’s proven that in the early going for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

In exchange for the talented rookie, the Cavaliers received high-scoring forward Kevin Love, who has struggled defensively. Again, why does this come as a surprise?

With Love leading the charge for the Wolves last season, opposing teams knocked down 63.1 percent of their shots within five feet of the basket against them, which was dead last in that category. At no point in his NBA career has Love really ever been even an average defender. Why did any of us expect that to suddenly change?

Except, offensively, Love has not been as impressive as many of us had hoped either.

Yes, it’s true that there’s not a 3-pointer that he likes, and this is a good thing… until it’s not.

On the season, Love is shooting .353 from the field from 3-point range and attempting 4.7 3-pointers per game.

His 3-point shooting percentage is still a good mark, but aside from his 18-game limited season in 2012-13, it’s his worst 3-point shooting performance since his second year in the league (2009-10) when he averaged just 28.6 minutes per game.

Still, Love clearly likes to shoot from long range, and this is a part of his game that’s an asset, but he needs to pick his spots a bit better.

To be fair, it’s not as if the Cavaliers have not shown glimpses throughout this young season. From November 24 to December 9, the team won eight-straight games, and the defense held teams to just an average of 91.6 points per game.

They also have three standout wins this season: two against Eastern Conference contender Toronto and one against Western power Memphis.

The problem is that for every yin, there is a yang.

After winning eight straight games, the Cavaliers proceeded to lose three of four games, allowing opponents to score an average of 109.3 points against them in those four contests.

Similarly, while the Cavs do have highlight wins against the Raptors and Grizzlies, the wins came while Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan was sidelined and Memphis’ Zach Randolph was injured.

The truth is that Cleveland fans, the media and Vegas alike are guilty of creating false expectations for this team. Yes, this team was expected to be good, but James never misled anyone.

How many times has he continually reiterated that this will be the greatest challenge of his career?

How many times has he preached patience and said that this will be a process?

Did we think he was lying to us?

Unfortunately, things do not look like they will be getting much better anytime soon. After facing Philadelphia tonight, the Cavaliers will host a talented Houston squad before beginning a five-game West Coast road trip. It’s likely that James will miss all of these games.

But as I mentioned earlier, for every yin, there is a yang and that’s true here too. While things likely won’t get immediately better soon, they’re unlikely to get much worse either.

Even if the Cavaliers continue to play middling basketball, they will probably never fall below the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. So, at worst, this team is likely to face a slightly above-average Washington team in the first round of the playoffs.

Personally, I would definitely favor the contingent of James, Irving, Love, Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson in that match up.

Plus, let’s also remember that we’re not even at the halfway mark of the season yet. The Cavaliers will assuredly add a rim protector before this year’s trade deadline, and the entire look and makeup could be vastly different by the time late April rolls around.

It’s true that things do not look nearly as good as we thought they would have at this point prior to the start of the season. But it’s also true that things are not nearly as bad as they seem either.

After all, LeBron James has returned home. Shouldn’t that be enough to keep us smiling for awhile?

Orbiting Cleveland is the regular Monday column from EHC Managing Editor Steve Orbanek. You can contact Steve via email at orbaneks@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter at @orbaneks.
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