Cavs must focus on defense, road wins to succeed

Joey Simon

The Browns are pretty bad. The Indians missed the playoffs by falling apart in the last six games of the season and I’m not even going to talk about Kent State football.

So, besides the Buckeyes’ fans out there, all we have to look forward to is the Cavs.

That’s not a bad thing, right?

I mean we loaded up during the off-season with integral players like Larry Hughes, Donyell Marshall, Damon Jones and then resigned all-star center Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Add in the fact that we have one of the top three players in the NBA in LeBron James, and things should be looking up.

But I’m worried.

Not just because it’s a Cleveland team, and if you ever get the least bit optimistic about one of them, they either: A. Fold like a deck of cards; B. Players decide to try and be like Evil Knievel on their motorcycle; C. Decide it’s time to rebuild; or D. Hire a collegiate coach who’s as good of a talent evaluator as Stevie Wonder.

Anyway, that’s not the only reason I’m concerned.

It’s early and the Cavs are looking for an identity just as any young, developing and newly-formed basketball team would. And while they’re scoring a lot and making highlight-reel plays, they’re still not playing defense. And they’re still struggling to win on the road.

As it’s been shown in the past two seasons, defense wins championships.

Last year, the top two teams in defense – the Detroit Pistons and the San Antonio Spurs – played in the finals. In the 2003-2004 season, Detroit won the championship, and, get this, the Pistons’ 84.3 allowed points per game was the best in the NBA.

Coincidence? I think not.

After getting torched by the defending-champion Spurs and then giving up 103 points to a Memphis team that will be lucky to get in the playoffs, the Cavs have shown no signs of improving their defense.

The Cavs are currently eighth out of 15 teams in the East Division in team defense, which is a step up from last year’s 12th place finish.

They were only able to hold one team under 90 points so far in their home opener against New Orleans/Oklahoma City, who they beat 109-87.

To be a contender in the playoffs, the Cavs need to be in the top four in the league, not the East, in team defense.

I emphasize team defense, because as head coach Mike Brown said in a recent radio interview, team defense is how you become a strong defensive team. He was questioned about the weak defensive play of Ilgauskas and how it will affect the team throughout the year and he responded with a very good point.

Defense isn’t about one guy being able to lock down the opposing team’s best player, he said. The team has to play together on defense. When that happens, it’s not about one player being exceptionally good or bad on defense, he added, it’s about everyone being on the same page and communicating to become a defensive unit.

For example, no one is going stop Shaquille O’Neal by himself. It takes a team effort, just as it takes a team effort to stop a well-balanced team like Detroit or Indiana, which doesn’t necessarily have one main scoring threat.

The next step for the Cavs besides their defense will be winning on the road. With a more veteran team than a year ago when 28 of the Cavs’ 40 losses came on the road, leadership should help the Cavs move past that problem.

So, as the Cavs enter a season with very high expectations, it’s going to come down to these two areas. How much they emphasize and focus on them will be the telling tale as to where they finish.

Contact sports editor Joey Simon at [email protected].