Another year, another NBA Finals appearance for LeBron James and his band known as Cleveland Cavaliers. This is the third straight appearance for the Cavs and LeBron himself has reached seven straight NBA Finals. Probably some sort of record in there. And with an 12-1 record in the 2017 playoffs right off the heels of a Finals win (where they also went 12-2 in Eastern conference play), the question that fans and opposing players alike are faced with is…
How can anyone beat the Cavaliers?
Well fear not, fellow NBA fan! I have looked at the most obscure and random stats, roster types and reviewed every single game this season to lock down on their weaknesses, flaws and vulnerabilities that can lead to a win over this otherwise elite squad.
Though not many, their weaknesses are highly exploitable and can be taken advantage of if a team has the right players and style. Ticking these 5 boxes can lead to an almost certain win for any team with the roster and play style that can cover all of these bases.
I will also mention the perfect Anti-Cavaliers for each section for any NBA teams reading this who to take example from
So let’s hop to it.
Number 1: Hero ball will never win. Like. Ever
The Cavalier arguably have the highest concentration of talent in the league and easily most widespread throughout the whole franchise. With this many superstars, it’s obvious that trying to have one man outduel LeBron, Kyrie and Kevin Love at once is not going to turn out well. So step one to be the Cavs is team basketball with a high assist game. In all reality, playing a team game against them is probably the most critical portion to beating them. In Cleveland’s 31 losses, the opposing team had a whopping average of 27.8 assists. Compare that to the league average of 22.6 assists. Strong passing wins games but even more so when against the Cavaliers. And since Cleveland has very few defend first players, striking everywhere on the court with team ball is going to fare deadly. Despite an undoubtedly strong defensive team, without much defensive depth with LeBron and Tristan Thompson being the only top notch defenders. This is flawed defensive roster that can be highly exploited if the right offense is implemented. Team game matters more than usual when facing the Cavs. A team like the Warriors execute this perfectly, especially in their January 26th win, rocking 37 assists in a 126-91 rout of the absolutely listless Cavaliers team. The Warriors come Finals time (because we all know the rematch is going happen) is going to be quite the challenge for a Cavs team still finding a way to conquer other team-heavy teams.
Number 2: Serve Up The Turnovers
Cleveland has one of the most dynamic passing games in the entire league and this generally how they can beat teams. Their passing game and team game are first class, which makes them a hard team to stop. But what’s the best way to beat a great passing team? Turnovers. Such a heavy passing game leads to oodles of opportunities for turnovers. And it shows. In losses, they cough up an average of 15.4 turnovers a game. This can completely handicap such a pass heavy offense and that is no different with the dynamic Cavaliers offense. This Cavaliers team and their pass-happy basketball is hard to stop when done right, but the a shifty and turnover hungry defense can cause all sorts of problems for them, reminiscent of the Milwaukee Bucks. Shown best in their November 19th win over the Cavs taking advantage of their 20 turnovers, with 15 steals in that ridiculous total with Giannis Antetokounmpo having 5 of his own. The Cavs offense will be completely obliterated if they can´t pass and nothing says ¨no passing allowed¨ like turnovers.
Number 3: The Three Can Not Fall
This Cavaliers team absolutely love their three pointers. And by love, I mean 33.8 attempts per game type of love, only second in the league to the record breaking Houston Rockets. This is a team who when hitting on all cylinders, are nearly impossible to slow down. With sharpshooters like Kyrie Irving and Kyle Korver, the Cavs have the weapons and the avalanche of attempts necessary to absolutely expose a weak three point defense. And when I say expose, I mean expose. In wins, they shoot a killer 40.2%. 43% is the highest 3 point percentage of all time just for perspective. However in losses they shoot a cramping 34.3%. In the 22 games the Cavs shot poorly, or below 35%, they only won 9 of them, mostly against teams like the 76ers and Nets. Take a looksie at a team like the Atlanta Hawks. In their November 9th win over Cleveland, they gave up 42 attempts but only allowed 11 to fall. This is a team and a game to cheat off of to stopping Cleveland’s three point barrage.
Number 4: Get BIG
A glaring weakness that basically the most troglodyte of an NBA fan can see is the lack of a rebounding big man. Their top rebounder Kevin Love only pulled in 11 rebounds a game and no one else is averaging double digits. Total rebounding has been a low point, with rebounding rates dropping as low as 49.7%. If a team can exploit Cleveland in the paint, they won´t have much of an answer. In the 15 games they had less than 45 rebounds, they won only 6 of those against non-playoff competitors in Detroit or Sacramento. Your cheatsheet here are the Denver Nuggets. They are an elite rebounding team and they showed off against the Cavs in their March 22nd win. Though pulling down a solid 48 rebounds, they only allowed Cleveland a miniscule 41 rebounds. They would go on to win 126-113. Rebounds are a massive factor of wrestling Cleveland and no team does this better than the Denver Nuggets.
Number 5: Push the Shot Clock
Cleveland has a very deliberate offense, not forcing anything while running down the clock, shown by their middling 98.4 pace rating. But the longer they have the ball, the less efficient their offense is. Earlier into the shot clock, 18-15 seconds, is where they want to shoot the ball the most. Hitting at 49.6% of field goals here can be devastating when a team let’s Cleveland get the shots when they want them. However the lower the shot clock goes, the worse Cleveland gets at shooting. 15-7 seconds, they still shoot a lightsout 49.1. But from 7-4 seconds, they hit 42.7% while 36.4% from three. And from 4-0, they shoot a rushed 35.2%. A team like Golden State in these 4 seconds would be a nightmare for Cleveland, as they average a ludicrous .9 steals and .8 blocks. For a team so rushed and clueless in this scenario, playing like Golden State here would be quite the challenge
When it comes down to it, the Cavs are a tough team to beat. But with these glaring weakness, they are a highly beatable team. Just look at Clippers and Bulls. Both teams are basically the anti-Cavs and need to be taken from to beat Cleveland. These strong defensive teams have a heavy big man (Robin Lopez, DeAndre Jordan) presence with turnover-hungry guards (Chris Paul, Rajon Rondo, Jimmy Butler). Never fear, any NBA coach/player/fan reading this! The Cavaliers can be stopped, the steps are laid out plain and simple! Use these techniques and Cleveland will have about zero answers