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Players voice concern over offense
CLEVELAND - Losing can make athletes, even highly paid professionals, start to question things. For the Cavaliers, a spate of eight losses in 12 games at midseason has some questioning their identity.
Frustrated with repeated offensive letdowns throughout the season, several Cavs are now openly suggesting the team needs a shakeup in philosophy. Team leaders believe that the grind-it-out half-court offense isn't working and measures need to be taken to play a more up-tempo, higher-scoring game.
Of course, this contradicts the way Cavs coach Mike Brown has constructed his system. He prefers to play slow, thinking defense first and to win games by executing defensively and offensively in the half-court setting. Which is the way games are often won in the playoffs -- including by the Cavs in last year's playoffs.
``I feel we've got enough athletes where we can get up and down the court,'' LeBron James said Monday after the Cavs scored just 78 points in a loss to the Detroit Pistons on Sunday.
``At times the coaching staff feels the same way, at other times no. We're kind of playing basketball for the playoffs. Our offense is geared toward half-court basketball instead of getting out and running.''
The Cavs are in the top 10 in the NBA in defense and defensive field-goal percentage, but they have been in the bottom 10 all season in scoring and shooting. Sometimes it has served them well, when they were at the top of their defensive game they were 10 games better than .500 and had the best record in the Eastern Conference.
But their defense has been inconsistent during the last month and the offense routinely sags, especially in games when the Cavs are forced into playing slow-down, half-court basketball. Which is what James and others want to slash. Eight times the Cavs have scored five or less fastbreak points, which James said was ``unbelievable.''
``(Running) is not going to stop defense, defensively we're in tune,'' said James, whose scoring average is down almost six points this season. ``But at the end of the day, if you don't put points on the board, you're not going to win basketball games.
``You can hold a team to 42 percent shooting, but if they make enough offensive plays and we don't, you're going to lose ballgames.
``We don't get easy buckets. I don't get easy buckets like I used to in the past. Easy buckets can always help, it doesn't hurt. At times it's fun to get up and down and throw lobs, I've probably caught two lobs this year, that's a career low.''
Brown has attempted to make changes to help his offense. Four games ago, he inserted rookie Daniel Gibson into the starting lineup and has given chunks of Damon Jones and Eric Snow's minutes to Sasha Pavlovic. While no one is looking for radical change, at this point in the season, some don't think it's enough.
``I still don't think it is time to panic, we need to keep an even keel,'' said Larry Hughes, whose scoring average is also down this season. ``I definitely think we should run more, it suits our team. Somewhat, we're trying. I think that we're a much better running team than we've showed.''
The offense the Cavs run now, which often starts out of a 1-4 set, takes time to develop. It can take a while for plays to be run and 41 percent of the time the Cavs don't take a shot until the final eight seconds of the 24-second shot clock. James feels like it often takes too long to develop plays and that it allows the defense to set up to defend him better.
``I think we do a lot of dribbling, when the time is running down, we can't attack, you have to settle for a jump shot,'' James said. ``For the most part, we want to play a half-court basketball game. I'm not saying it's a negative, because we are at times a good half-court team.''
James said that he has taken his feelings to Brown recently and that the coach has been receptive to wanting to add more running components. Brown, however, believes in stability and isn't prone to anything radical.
He said he doesn't mind the Cavs running more, but he doesn't want to change what the team does. He'd prefer execution in the half-court, such as the setting of and coming off screens to get better, rather than changing the team's style.
``I believe this thing is ever evolving,'' Brown said. ``You tweak stuff, you don't make changes. I don't believe in that. Whatever you have, especially what's working for you, you make a tweak here and a tweak there and do use repetition and that's how you get better. When we do push the ball we have to run smart. We've just got to stay after it.''
My Favorite 10 in no particular order
Marc Gasol • Ginobili • Lebron • Kyrie Irving • Bogut • Anderson Varejao • Dirk• Rubio • Embiid • Dion Waiters
There is a tension, peculiar to basketball, between the interests of the team and the interests of the individual. The game continually tempts the people who play it to do things that are not in the interest of the group.