Dribbles: Cavs Prove No Match For Defending Champs. Why?

Random dribbles following the Cavaliers‘ 130-101 road loss to the Denver Nuggets on Sunday. …

Jarrett Allen, Cleveland Cavaliers
(David Zalubowski/AP)

1. Well, that was a bust.

2. I didn’t expect the Cavs to beat the Nuggets in Denver. But I did expect them to show up.

3. I’ll be honest, I haven’t loved what I’ve seen from the Cavs since the All-Star break. The teamwork and fight just haven’t been there on a regular basis.

4. Granted, this was the Nuggets, and they’ve been fabulous since the break. They look like they could be on their way to another title. There’s no shame in losing on their floor. Again, though, it was the way the Cavs lost.

5. Before the break, the Cavs were rarely blown out. Even in losses, they played smart, played together, and played with great determination. They still do that now. Sometimes. This wasn’t one of those times.

6. Evan Mobley (23 points) and Jarrett Allen (19) did a decent job, but why are the Cavs suddenly getting killed on the boards? They have two 7-footers, or at least Mobley is 7-foot and Allen is close. They’ve been hanging their hats on defense … and rebounding. Until lately. Denver out-rebounded the Cavs, 51-28. Yikes.

7. Donovan Mitchell scored 13 points on 3-of-12 shooting. He doesn’t look like himself yet. That’s understandable. But I can’t tell you what’s up with Darius Garland. He finished with five points on 2-of-8 shooting. Garland doesn’t need to score 20 every night. He does need to be better than the past few weeks though. I’m not saying anything that Garland or the Cavs don’t also think.

8. Meanwhile, Nikola Jokic put on another masterclass with 28 points, 18 rebounds and 16 assists. That’s not a big surprise. He does that to everybody. Amazingly, the Nuggets (52-23) outscored the Cavs by 37 with Jokic on the court.

9. Coach J.B. Bickerstaff to reporters: “(The Nuggets are) sound all around. They understand and believe in their system. That’s something we’re working towards.”

10. Why though? The Cavs won 17 of 18 to kick off 2024. They sure looked like they understood and believed in their system then. What’s changed?

11. Yes, it’s only fair to acknowledge that Mitchell and even Mobley are still working their way back. Same with Max Strus. This seems to be about more than injuries and missed time, though. Something just seems off.

12. Bickerstaff admitted that Mitchell is out of sorts. “He wants to compete, to try and help us be in the best position moving forward,” he said, “but if you take time off it’s going to take some time to find your rhythm again.” Fair enough.

13. At any rate, this was no way to start a trip through the West, with four games still to go. The Cavs (45-30) remain in third in the East, a half-game ahead of New York, which lost by a point at home to Oklahoma City.

14. The Cavs get a day to evaluate things before visiting Utah on Tuesday, followed by Phoenix on Wednesday. They need to get things cleaned up in a hurry. That’s really the bottom line.

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