By, Ben Dario
For LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, the end of the disastrous month of March could not have come soon enough. While the team ended the month with a win over the lowly Philadelphia 76ers, the team posted a 7-10 record during the month, one of the worst of James’ entire career, and lost the Eastern Conference’s top seed to the Boston Celtics.
Because LeBron James has reached the NBA finals in each of the past six seasons, many are viewing this March swoon as a typical low point of a team that will rebound when it counts, but the numbers appear far more troubling for the defending champions when you look at their past 40 games and their season as a whole.
With a record of just 21-19 over the past 40 games, the Cavaliers are just barely scraping by as an above .500 team. While they have suffered various injuries during this stretch, none should be significant enough to derail the team so badly, as their two best players in James and Kyrie Irving have been healthy throughout the entire stretch.
While having LeBron James, Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving on your roster all but guarantees a dynamic and potent offense, the Cavaliers defense has been unable to support their high scoring offense.
The Cavaliers currently rank 23rd in defensive efficiency in the league. They are behind teams that are often maligned for poor defenses, like the Portland Trailblazers and even the Houston Rockets, whose star player James Harden has practically become the league symbol of a great offensive, poor defensive player.
To make matters worse, the Cavaliers have fallen even further when you condense the sample size to games since the All Star break, where they are allowing 113.2 points per 100 possessions, a mark high enough to bring them to the 29th team in defensive efficiency over that stretch. The Los Angeles Lakers are the only team with a worse defense since the All Star break, and they are more focused on jockeying for a draft position than preparing for the NBA playoffs.
The Cavaliers are set to square off against the Boston Celtics on April 5, a game that likely will decide who will finish the season with the Eastern Conference’s top seed, with the Cavaliers sitting 0.5 games behind Boston in the current standings.
The game will be played in Boston, which highlights another troubling stat for the Cavaliers, who are just 19-19 on the road this season. The Celtics have not been their best selves on the road, either, posting a record of 22-17 in away arenas.
The two best teams in the Eastern Conference are clearly better in their home arenas, where the Celtics have gone 28-10 in Boston and the Cavaliers have gone 30-8 in Cleveland. These numbers point to the game on April 5 having huge consequences, as the winner will most likely earn the right to host a Eastern Conference Finals deciding game 7 at their own arena.
While LeBron James has been the #1 seed in his conference, just two out of the six years in a row he has reached the NBA Finals. The teams troubling defense mixed with their far better record at home give extra meaning to finishing the season strong with a win in Boston if James hopes to reach his seventh straight finals.
A loss could potentially open the door for a team without LeBron James on their roster to represent the Eastern Conference in the finals for the first time since LeBron initially joined Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, and the Miami Heat. These stats about poor defense and a weak road record give hope to teams like the Celtics, Wizards, and Raptors. As every single team in the Eastern Conference has learned over the course of the past six years, no matter what happens in the regular season, you have to take down LeBron in a seven game series if you hope to represent the East. Since 2011, nobody has been able to do so.