You can sign Kevin Durant, but you still can’t beat us.
The “us” in this equation is none other than LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, who erased a 14-point fourth quarter deficit against the new-look Golden State Warriors at Quicken Loans Arena in the first encounter between the two clubs since the previous June, when the 73-win Dubs donked-off a 3-1 series lead in the NBA Finals to fall in seven games on their home court to James and the Cavs.
That aforementioned message was unmistakable in the wake of such a thrilling and improbable comeback. Cleveland was still the top gun in the Association and there was nothing Golden State could do about it.
And then it all went to hell.
Not for the Warriors, who have gone 14-2 — which includes a 35-point win over the Cavaliers on January 16 — since that Christmas Day loss, but for the Cavaliers who have seemingly come unglued at the seams both on and off the court ever since the calendar flipped to 2017.
Up to and including that win over Golden State on December 25, the Cavaliers had posted a record of 23-6 SU and 15-13-1 ATS while facing an average point spread of -7.5 points per game.
Since January 1 it’s been a much different story for Cleveland, who has gone 7-8 SU and 3-12 ATS while facing an average point spread of 6.7 points per game.
The problems are somewhat alarming, as they have not been confined to either on-the-court issues or off-the-court concerns – but both. James has spent the better part of the past two weeks calling out the Cleveland front office, putting his teammates (sans Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love) on blast and jawing with Charles Barkley on a very public stage. All of this while the 32-year-old future Hall of Famer has somehow, inexplicably, found a way to lead the NBA in minutes per game at 37.5.
From an on-the-court perspective, here’s a look at how the Cavaliers performed from the season-opener through that Christmas Day win over the Warriors compared with how the club has fared since that headline-grabbing victory:
Record: 23-6 vs. 9-9
Offensive Rating: 111.2 (4th) vs. 106.1 (17th)
Defensive Rating: 104.1 (13th) vs. 108.3 (18th)
Net Rating: +7.1 (5th) vs. -2.2 (21st)
Effective Field Goal Percentage: 53.8% (3rd) vs. 52.1% (13th)
Assist/Turnover Ratio: 1.70 (9th) vs. 1.37 (26th)
It’s been a systematic breakdown across the board for the Cavaliers since December 25, as the club’s production and efficiency have fallen by the wayside. Usually a team that prides itself on playing stellar defense, Cleveland has surrendered 100 or more points in 17 of 19 contests since Christmas.
What it all means is very simple: If the Cavaliers can’t take advantage of a February that offers a light schedule coupled with the All-Star break, it may be time to consider the possibility that another NBA Finals contender could emerge from the Eastern Conference.
Here’s what LeBron and co. will face in the month of February:
Minnesota Timberwolves (twice): 19-29
New York Knicks (twice): 23-29
Indiana Pacers (twice): 25-22
Chicago Bulls: 24-25
Milwaukee Bucks: 21-26
Denver Nuggets: 21-26
Washington Wizards: 28-20
Oklahoma City Thunder: 28-21
No Warriors, no Spurs, no Rockets, no Celtics, no Raptors. That’s not exactly the “Murderer’s Row” of NBA schedules.
If the Cavs can’t find a way to get right during that 11-game stretch, perhaps it’s worth thinking the unthinkable: That maybe, just maybe, LeBron could miss the NBA Finals for the first time in seven years.
And who was it that prevented James from a spot against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers in the championship series that season?
Oh yeah, the Boston Celtics. The same Boston Celtics who are riding a four-game winning streak, find themselves just 2.5 games behind Cleveland entering Wednesday night and can currently be found at a price of 30/1 to win the NBA title and 8/1 to win the Eastern Conference at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook.