Cleveland Cavaliers Experiencing Growing Pains in Post-LeBron Era

With former Cavs superstar LeBron James now a member of the Los Angles Lakers, the Cleveland Cavaliers are figuring out their new identity.

Updated: Oct. 21, 2018 • 9:05 PM ET

The new-look Cleveland Cavaliers are figuring out their way in the league.

CLEVELAND — As one could have predicted, the Cleveland Cavaliers have gotten off to a rough start in their 2018-19 NBA season, otherwise known as the beginning of the post-LeBron James era. Yet in still, the Cavs have shown some bright spots amidst the struggles.

Kevin Love has resembled a No. 1 option with James in Los Angeles, averaging 20.6 points and 14.3 rebounds in the first three contests. Second-year small forward Cedi Osman, the man who replaced James in the starting lineup, has averaged 17 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists through the first three games; and Jordan Clarkson has been a nice surprise off the bench, averaging 17.6 points in three games.

While those three players have emerged in the infancy of the Cavaliers’ latest season, wins have been hard to come by for the team on the banks of Lake Erie. The Cavs entered Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks winless after playing their first two games of the season on the road. Sunday evening in their first home game of the new season, the Cavs (0-3) may have produced their worst showing of the season with a 133-111 loss to the lowly Hawks in Quicken Loans Arena.

“Our transition defense was better and then in half court, they shot the ball really well,” Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue said about what was the most alarming part of Sunday’s game. “It wasn’t clean with our switches. After that first quarter, we gave up two 40-point quarters…and you can’t do that and win.”

When the Cavs jumped out to a 22-7 lead with less than five minutes remaining in the first quarter, it seemed like they were going to have a fairly easy evening. Unfortunately for Cleveland, the rest of the game went downhill from there.

When the first quarter ended, the Cavs lead had been sliced to 10, as Cleveland held a 34-24 advantage. And after 40-point second quarter by the Hawks, Cleveland found themselves trailing 64-60 at halftime.

A 13-point third quarter from Rodney Hood kept the Cavs in the game, as the team trailed 92-86 heading into the fourth. However, by the time Atlanta guard Kent Bazemore sank his third three-pointer of the night with 7:55 to play in the fourth quarter, Cleveland trailed 108-91 and the game was out of hand.

Clarkson led Cleveland with 19 points on Sunday, while Love totaled 16 points and 17 rebounds. Cavs starting point guard George Hill chipped-in 16 points, but it was the point guard on the other team that was the star of the night.

Hill’s counterpart, Hawks rookie point guard Trae Young, scored a career-high 35 points with a career-high 11 assists against Cleveland. Bazemore contributed 23 points, five rebounds and four assists.

This season, defense has been a cause for concern with the Cavs, which allowed the Hawks to drain 22 three-pointers on Sunday. Through the first three games, the Cavs are averaging 112.6 points per game. Unfortunately, they’re also allowing 126.6 points per outing, which is too many to allow for any NBA team that is attempting to win regularly.

Yet, while the Cavs have allowed a staggering number of points this season, scoring seems to have skyrocketed across the league. Only one team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, entered Sunday averaging less than 100 points thus far this season. Meanwhile, 22 of the 30 teams in the league began Sunday averaging at least 110 points per game.

When asked what a good defensive night is in today’s NBA, Lue said, “A win. I think the best defensive night is the best offensive night with this league now with the way they’re shooting threes. You have centers shooting threes, you have big men shooting threes and the game has opened up.

“Teams are looking at it like, the more three attempts we get up, the more points we’re going to score. You have five guys now on the floor that’s shooting threes, the floor is wide open, their playing faster with a faster pace. Eight, nine years ago, they were trying to keep teams under 100 points, but now I think everyone in our league scores over 100 points. The game has changed tremendously, so I don’t even really know.”

Defense is becoming more of an afterthought in today’s league, but that doesn’t apply to Cavs rookie point guard Colin Sexton, who is known as a tenacious defender. With James gone, Sexton will experience a similar set of circumstances to those that Kyrie Irving experienced when James bolted Cleveland the first time. Both Irving and Sexton were the next high draft pick after James’ departures, tasked with bringing the franchise back to prominence.

A standout last year in his only season at the University of Alabama, Sexton’s progression should be closely monitored during his first year in the NBA. It remains to be seen if the Cavs can return to the playoffs for a fifth straight season, but Sexton shouldn’t be afraid of that spotlight if it arrives.

“Just watching him in college, the bigger the moment, the bigger the stage, the better he was, and you can get that feel from him now,” Lue said. “He loves playing against the good guards and loves playing against the good teams…he just gets better every day. I’m excited for him and excited for his growth.”

Despite a subpar four-point effort from Sexton in 28 minutes on Sunday, Lue said that he has seen progress since the rook’s first game in the league.

“It’s kind of like Summer League,” Lue said about Sexton’s development. “He got better each game…He just continued to take that next step every game and getting better. He’s understanding what we’re trying to do offensively, doing a good job defensively picking up full court and pressuring the other point guard.

“With his toughness, with his mentality, he’s going to be just fine.”

For the Cavs, life without James is about learning and growing. But if the Cavs continue losing more games than they win, Lue will have to make adjustments.

“Right now, whoever’s in the rotation is in the rotation for now,” Lue said. “If we gotta change it, we will.”

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