CLEVELAND — When the Cavaliers lost to LeBron James and the Lakers at home on Monday, one glaring stat stood out.
That would be none other than points in the paint. The Cavs (41-31) surrendered a whopping 64 in their 131-120 defeat. Yes, they also gave up a whopping 131 points.
Some of that was just James doing what he does best — finding open teammates when not scoring himself. More often than not this season, James’ teammates fail to deliver. On Monday, though, they knocked ’em down.
But the Cavs weren’t totally blameless in that. They were a little too soft to beat a veteran team such as LA.
And defense has been a little bit of an issue in the second half of the season. The Cavs can score the basketball. They play the right way offensively. But as young teams are known to do, they can get a little lax at the other end.
One scout told Hoops Wire the Cavs are fairly good at defending the first guy, or player with the ball. They’re not bad at rotating on the first pass, to the second guy. But they really struggle rotating to the third guy.
That’s something of which they’re aware. Some games, they even clean it up. For coach J.B. Bickerstaff, it’s always a matter of pure determination. He said they lacked that Monday.
“We just didn’t play the way were capable of,” he said. “There wasn’t enough grit, there wasn’t enough scrap. … Defensively, we didn’t play with the resistance needed to give ourselves a chance.”
It doesn’t help that the Cavs are still missing center Jarrett Allen. His length, combined with the length of Evan Mobley and Lauri Markkanen can give opponents’ fits at the rim. But you generally need all three of them, together, to have a major impact — as we saw against the Lakers.
On the bright side, the Cavs remain a game ahead of the Raptors for sixth place in the Eastern Conference, and are just a game back of the Bulls for fifth. They visit Toronto on Thursday.
Everyone from Bickerstaff to Mobley to Markkanen to star guard Darius Garland knows the Cavs have to turn it up a notch. They need to return to playing playoff-style basketball, the style that has lifted them to this regular season of dreams.
The playoffs haven’t started, but playoff positioning sure has.
“We get another shot at it Thursday,” Garland said after the loss to the Lakers. “Come in with better detail, just better plan overall on the defensive scheme. Like (Markkanen) said, we’ve gotta be more physical. The Lakers got in our paint the entire game and got whatever they want, easy buckets.”
Sam Amico is senior writer at Hoops Wire. Follow him @AmicoHoops.