Despite leading by as many as 23 points, the Cleveland Cavaliers needed all 48 minutes to put away the Orlando Magic on Thursday night. And afterward, LeBron James wasn’t so much relieved as exasperated.
As he told reporters, per Cleveland.com’s Joe Vardon:
“We want to play better and we know we have the ability to do it but right now we’re in Strugglesville,” said LeBron James. “But it felt like a win. We needed it. Definitely.”
LeBron ain’t kidding.
The Cavaliers entered this one with a 2-10 record since Christmas Day and sporting the NBA’s second-worst defense on the season. Even though they went on a tear following a 5-7 start, their latest malaise has pulled them down to third place in the Eastern Conference, six games back of the first-place Boston Celtics and 3.5 off the second-place Toronto Raptors. As of now, in fact, they’re closer to the No. 9 seed than the No. 1 seed. Think about.
Most expect the Cavaliers to make at least one move
at the trade deadline as a result. They might have enough to get out of the Eastern Conference right now—though, on some times, even that feels doubtful—but they’ve fallen twice to the Golden State Warriors during this unflattering stretch. And while Isaiah Thomas hasn’t yet rounded into full form, he doesn’t do anything to fix their defense.
As for who might, we don’t know. The problem certainly won’t be fixed in-house, given the talent Cleveland has at its disposal. And trading for a big man isn’t the answer. Some would have them pursue trades for DeAndre Jordan or Marc Gasol, even if it comes at the expense of the Brooklyn Nets pick. That won’t fly.
Big guys like them don’t move the needle against the Warriors either. The Cavaliers need high-end, three-and-D wings, along with, perhaps, some extra defensive firepower at point. And if we’re being honest, while they could make some small-scale tweaks between now and the Feb. 8 trade deadline, the current chopping-block landscape isn’t conducive to them doing anything major.