The struggling Cavaliers began the second half of their regular season Friday in Indiana, but Professor Noland was not pleased with the way they arrived at the midpoint.
Cleveland was 26-15 prior to Friday, which translates to 52 regular-season wins, which is on par with its record in three straight NBA Finals appearances: The Cavs won 53 games in 2014-15, 57 in their 2015-16 championship season and 51 in 2016-17.
How Tyronn Lue’s club arrived at its midseason record, however, is alarming. The Cavs had a stretch where they won 13 straight games and 18-of-19, but in all other games surrounding that streak, they were 8-14.
And even in their 18-1 stretch, the Cavs won 10 home games and notched road victories against bottom feeders Dallas, New York, Charlotte, Atlanta and Chicago.
Since that streak, Cleveland was 3-7 in its last 10 games prior to Friday, including a 127-99 debacle Tuesday in Minnesota — the Cavs trailed by 41 points in that one — and an even worse 133-99 pounding Thursday in Toronto, which played without All-Stars Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka.
No team in NBA history, by the way, has gone on to win a title after suffering back-to-back losses of at least 25 points in the regular season.
Part of the recent malaise can be explained by the fact Cleveland hasn’t cared all that much about the regular season since LeBron James returned in 2014.
Perhaps the Cavs are simply bored, don’t care right now and will once again pull it all together and cruise through the Eastern Conference playoffs, where they have gone 12-2, 12-2 and 12-1 over the last three seasons.
It’s important to note, though, that Boston and Toronto have never been better and Cleveland’s defense has never been worse.
A blockbuster trade involving Brooklyn’s first-round pick is also a possibility, but right now Professor Noland can only go by what he’s seen when it comes to doling out midterm grades.
Jose Calderon: The 36-year-old point guard had a horrible start against Orlando early in the season, fell completely out of the rotation for a 10-game stretch, played well as a starter when injuries hit and is now either an afterthought or a starter, depending on Isaiah Thomas’ availability. Calderon’s physical ability is limited, but he gives everything he has, which stands out in a way it shouldn’t on a team with championship aspirations. Grade: C+.
Jae Crowder: Professor Noland thought the Cavs were getting a much-needed junkyard dog when Crowder came over from Boston in the Kyrie Irving trade, but he’s been anything but. Most games, he simply stands behind the 3-point line, waits for a pass and misses a shot from beyond the arc (.303). Defensively, he’s been a huge disappointment, and his rebounding (3.3) and passing (1.1 assists) have been abysmal. Grade: D.
Channing Frye: The Cavs had their best stretch of the season when Tristan Thompson was hurt and Frye was playing, as the second unit took off with his 3-point ability spreading the floor even more. Frye, though, is a bad defender and rebounder who is not very good at mixing it up inside, so his minutes have been spotty at best since Thompson’s return. Grade: C+.
Jeff Green: No real complaints here, other than he could rebound a tad more. The guy can score inside and out, defend multiple positions, handle the ball and is a great free throw shooter (.863). An argument could be made that he should be starting in place of Crowder, but Green gets a lot more touches and opportunities playing with the second unit. Grade: A-.
LeBron James: At 33 and in his 15th year in the league, James is having one of the best seasons of his storied career. All the guy is doing is averaging 27.1 points, 8.0 rebounds and 8.8 assists while shooting .558 from the field, .387 on 3-pointers and .778 at the line. If we want to nitpick, we could point out James could defend better — or at least get back on “D” after committing a turnover or failing to get a call — but history tells us his effort on that end of the floor will improve greatly in the postseason. Grade: A+.
Kyle Korver: No one on the roster moves better without the ball (not many others move without the ball, period). Korver is what he’s always been: A great 3-point shooter and physically limited defender who nonetheless plays intelligently at that end of the floor. He’s also had a number of big performances in the fourth quarter, earning him the nickname Fourth Korver. Grade: B+.
Kevin Love: He’s averaging 19.2 points and 9.6 boards, shooting .410 on 3-pointers while also finishing better inside and is far and away the Cavs’ best defensive rebounder. The guy deserves to be an All-Star. Grade: A.
Cedi Osman: If you read only the responses on Professor Noland’s Twitter account, you’d think this kid was capable of averaging 15 points, five rebounds and five assists when in fact he’s very raw and unproven. Still, given J.R. Smith’s woeful play and the fact Professor Noland is not eager to watch Iman Shumpert or Derrick Rose play when healthy, a decent argument can be made that it’s time for the Cavs to do something completely radical and start the rookie. Grade: C.
Derrick Rose: Lue seems to have a man crush on the former league MVP, who has played exactly seven games this season and briefly contemplated retirement. Professor Noland would much rather see Calderon play behind Thomas, because this team already has enough guys who dribble too much. Most of the others at least pass the ball; Rose does not. Grade: F.
Iman Shumpert: The Cavs could use a player with his defensive attributes, but only if he realizes he should almost never shoot the ball, as .386 field goal and .280 3-point percentages prove. Shumpert’s only played in 13 games this season, and counting on him to have any significant impact would be foolish. Grade: D-.
J.R. Smith: Professor Noland has reached the point where he feels one of his favorite players personally not only shouldn’t be starting, he shouldn’t even be in the rotation. Smith was bad last season, when he dealt with injuries and the premature birth of his daughter, but he’s been even worse this season. He no longer defends much and now won’t even take open 3-pointers. The guy played 27 minutes Thursday in Toronto and had no points, one rebound and one assist, which are pretty much the same numbers Professor Noland put up while seated behind his desk. Grade: F.
Isaiah Thomas: The 5-foot-9 point guard’s first few games after returning from a hip injury went better than anyone could have envisioned, but we have since been reminded there are going to be some big bumps in the road. The only goal here is consistent improvement, good health and to be peaking when the playoffs start. Grade: Incomplete.
Tristan Thompson: No player on the roster has more extreme positives and negatives. At best, Thompson is a relentless offensive rebounder and extremely versatile defender whose impact on games tends to increase in the postseason. At worst, he’s a horrible defensive rebounder who only gets in the way on offense. On a team that lacks quality size and has virtually no physical presence inside, it’s understandable that Lue is playing Thompson ahead of Frye, but this remains an area to keep an eye on. Grade: C-.
Dwyane Wade: At 35 and in his 15th season, Wade is still capable of impacting a game in a variety of ways. He’s averaging 11.1 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists while playing just 23.4 minutes a night. Equally impressive, he’s done so without dominating the ball and while coming up with big blocks and steals at the defensive end. Grade: B+.
Ante Zizic: The young big man just isn’t ready to contribute. Grade: F (or Incomplete).
Tyronn Lue: Lue did his best coaching of the season when he had the least amount of options, but he could be approaching a crossroads. The Cavs too often don’t execute defensive game plans, and nice guy Lue might have to get a lot tougher in order to get the attention of all his players. Grade: C-.
Koby Altman: Getting what he got for the disgruntled Irving was a positive for the young, first-year general manager, as was signing Wade, Green and even Calderon. The Cavs, though, are still a “pretty” or “soft” team that lacks any type of physical inside presence, let alone an enforcer of sorts. Altman likely has more work to do this season. Grade: C.