Doom and gloom surrounds the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Still, you have to keep things in perspective. Oddsmakers have.
The most recent numbers from the Westgate SuperBook still have the Cavs as a 4-to-5 Eastern Conference favorite, moving them from 1-to-2 the previous week, which means their odds of reaching the NBA Finals again went from 66.7 percent to 55.6. To win it all, they’ve gone from 9-to-2 (18.2 percent) to 6-to-1 (14.3).
When the season opened, Cleveland was 1-to-3 to win the East (75%) and 4-to-1 (20%) to get LeBron James his fourth title.
The Cavs have taken a hit and are as vulnerable as ever. Boston and Toronto look like potential worthy adversaries good enough to snatch up that crown. Kyrie Irving has a ring. DeMar DeRozan often shows flashes that he can be a closer when it matters most. The Raptors are deeper than ever.
Neither the Celtics, Raptors, Wizards or Heat have LeBron. That’s why the Cavs will remain favored, so long as he’s healthy.
The rumor mill has been working overtime with stories out of Northeast Ohio. Dan Gilbert is interesting in selling the team. Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder, newcomers, have somehow pointed fingers at All-Star Kevin Love. It’s all been embarrassing.
Click on any link you’ve seen this way and you’ll read a negative story about the Cavaliers’ current plight. James went on the record saying he has no idea whether head coach Tyronn Lue will survive this, which sounds strange since it’s common knowledge that his influence put him in charge in the first place after predecessor David Blatt was deemed to be in over his head.
Nobody is truly safe until the trade deadline comes and goes, and Lue probably doesn’t get to feel comfortable until the calendar turns to March, which makes the next few weeks all the more interesting.
Despite getting Thomas healthy, the Cavs have been an absolute disaster. Any positive momentum that was expected to be garnered by getting the primary piece in the Irving deal into the lineup hasn’t materialized. Tristan Thompson returning has also had no impact. He’s returning to the starting five for Friday’s date with Indiana and is expected to be in the fold going forward, filling the center spot and allowing Love to be back at the power forward spot that he’s best suited to play.
There is certainly a lot to be concerned with if you’re a Cavaliers fan. LeBron won’t even talk postseason, saying that if the playoffs began today, he wouldn’t be surprised if the Cavs were bounced in the first round. Cleveland has been the worst team against the spread all season, failing to cover in seven of its first eight and never coming through more than twice in a row against the number. The Cavs are 12-33-1, costing anyone silly enough to back their resurgence a boatload thus far.
Despite getting closer to whole, Cleveland has lost 10 of 13 but remain installed behind only the heavily favored Warriors (2/5) as the most likely to win the title per the Westgate Superbook, coming in ahead of the Rockets (8/1) and everyone else.
Since Thomas got heathy to open 2018, the Cavs have failed to cover after their opening home win over Portland, a span of nine straight entering the Jan. 26 date with Indiana, which has closed within two games in the Central Division.
Oklahoma City came into Quicken Loans Arena and pulled off a 148-124 win, one of the most ridiculous results in the league this season. Thomas had no prayer of staying in front of Westbrook, which put the defense in a vulnerable position all afternoon. Privately, James is said to have told confidants that he’s worried his team can’t snap out of this. The depleted Spurs won easily at AT&T Center on Tuesday, rolling 114-102.
Cryptic tweets have already made the rounds throughout social media, adding to the intrigue.
Dwyane Wade tweeted: “Look in the mirror and you’ll get all the answers you need.”
Since all the dirty laundry is being aired on various social media vehicles in addition to playing out in front of a press crew that does a diligent job in reporting every word uttered around the team, they’ll have to deal with distractions normally reserved for cities like New York or Los Angeles, not Cleveland.
Still, that’s nothing new for any of these guys. This is a veteran group, currently accused of having old legs but certainly capable of dealing with performing amid drama and increased attention.
Thomas (hip), Thompson (calf) and Derrick Rose (ankle) are all back in the mix, and while it’s worth wondering whether their absence wasn’t a reason why the Cavs took off and won 18 of 19 from Nov. 11 to Dec. 17 given the struggles all three have faced. Still, it’s also not exactly fair to expect them to immediately rediscover their form. Playing their way back into shape isn’t a luxury they’ve enjoyed.
Guard Iman Shumpert, a crucial piece who has already helped turn Cleveland’s fortunes around once before, made his first appearance since Nov. 27 against San Antonio on Jan. 23, logging six minutes after finally getting his knee right. J.R. Smith, who came over from the Knicks alongside Shumpert in 2015 and hasn played in three NBA Finals, hasn’t produced to his capability at either end of the floor, passing up open looks and struggling to defend to his potential.
Maybe George Hill can be plucked out of Sacramento to help stabilize the backcourt defense, forcing Lue to balance when he plays Thomas to limit his exposure on that side of the ball. Crowder has been demoted, but will also be a factor going forward off the bench and will be an asset so long as he shoots the ball better than he did when he originally came on board.
The Cavs have the personnel to get it together, but Lue, not Love, is currently in the hottest seat. He’ll have to figure out a way to stabilize his group and push the right buttons or risk losing his gig.
If you’ve settled on a No. 2 team you like in the East, now is probably the time to try and cash in, but do so with the knowledge that you’ll have to beat James in four out of seven somewhere along the way. Since there’s a chance they can put a lineup of LeBron, Love, Thompson, Shumpert and Crowder to go out and get a stop and may even add a talent like Hill to fortify the group, betting against the Cavs remains a dicey bet despite how lucrative it’s been so far.
Keep Cleveland’s struggles in perspective. It’s unlikely the doom and gloom will last too much longer. LeBron has found a way to reach the NBA Finals every season this decade since 2011. He’s still plenty dominant enough to get there again. All he needs is just a little more help.
Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA