Latest Result: Wizards 96, Cavs 83
Games Out: 5 behind Hawks for 8th
Games Remaining: 25
What we learned against the Wizards: The Cavaliers do not possess the overall depth required to beat playoff teams while suffering through a collection of key injuries. Even while riding the momentum of an historic six-game winning streak that left Cavs fans around the world dreaming of playoff glory for the first time since 2010. The Cavs were without C.J. Miles, Anderson Varejao and Dion Waiters this past weekend and dropped Friday's matchup with the Toronto Raptors before losing to Randy Wittman's Washington squad at home on Sunday.
This inevitable result should've been more obvious than Twitter was making it seem on Sunday night. I understand the frustration of losing. I also get that it's particularly difficult to watch reputable NBA veterans like Jarrett Jack and Luol Deng combine to shoot 7-of-24 from the floor. But there was really no way that Cleveland was beating John Wall, Andre Miller, Bradley Beal and the rest of the Wizards without the services of two starters and maybe the most potent offensive reserve in the NBA.
The most dangerous part about this two-game skid, however, is how quickly the upcoming schedule could spiral things out of control. Over the next six games, the Cavaliers will play four teams currently in playoff position along with the Memphis Grizzlies who are two behind the No. 8-seeded Dallas Mavericks out West. In short, the Cavs will need Miles, Varejao and Waiters back as soon as possible for any chance to contend down the stretch.
Irving's Two-Game Shooting Slump
Kyrie Irving combined to shoot 9-of-33 over the last two games. He connected on 2-of-11 three's and turned the ball over five times. The shorthanded Cavs, especially, will never win when Irving struggles to that extent. I understand that Jack isn't helping things. And Irving probably put more pressure on himself to generate offense than usual as a result of the banged up roster. But, injuries or otherwise, Irving is at his best when he's letting the game come to him as opposed to forcing the action. Pull that dribble drive out and knock down the mid-range jumper. On night's like Sunday, the defense has nothing better to do than sit back and collectively guard the rim in defense of Irving anyway.
Spencer Hawes and Anthony Bennett
My opinion of what Spencer Hawes can provide this team is being unfairly influenced by the fact that he could be taking minutes away from Anthony Bennett down the stretch. Bennett was playing his best basketball of the season just before the All-Star break. Since then, he's averaged 16 minutes during the last three games. In two of those games, Hawes arrived to average 29. In a vacuum, however, you have to be pleased with Hawes' activity around the rim. Against Washington, in particular, finishing with 16 points and 12 rebounds while saving loose balls and dishing out falling-down dimes to Tristan Thompson, he was impressive. I just hope there's enough room under the basket for Bennett to play the 20-plus minutes per night he needs to develop alongside the big man from Seattle.
Photo: AP, Mark Duncan