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Cavs Notes

Rick Noland: Cavaliers remain impossible to figure out

  • Cavaliers-Pacers-Basketball-9

    Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) reacts to being called for a technical foul against the Indiana Pacers during the second half of Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series in Indianapolis, Sunday.

    MICHAEL CONROY / AP

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So we’re now 82 regular-season and four playoff games in and I still have no idea what to make of the Cavaliers.

And if you think you do, you’re either a seer, sage and soothsayer or, much more likely, kidding yourself.

I mean, after 86 games I know two things: There’s still a distinct possibility LeBron James and the boys could reach a fourth straight NBA Finals and there remains a very real chance they could go kerplunk in the first round.

That’s a tribute to two other things: The Cavs are maddeningly inconsistent and the inferior Eastern Conference, though better balanced, more than ever doesn’t have a team capable of beating Houston or Golden State in The Finals.

Tied 2-2 with the Indiana Pacers heading into Game 5 Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Quicken Loans Arena, the Cavs have regained home-court advantage in what is now a best-of-three series.

While it’s certainly better to potentially have two games at home than on the road in such a scenario — and while the Game 5 winner in a 2-2 scenario goes on to win the series more than 80 percent of the time — nothing is guaranteed.

Not this year.

Not with this team.

Not when Cavs coach Tyronn Lue makes one substitution while his team loses the third quarter of Game 4 28-20.

Not when Lue has no idea how any player not named LeBron is going to play from one quarter to the next, let alone one game to the next.

Actually, as tremendous as he’s been the vast majority of the time, we can include even James in that unpredictability.

In an ugly 98-80 Game 1 loss, he didn’t take a shot until 1:24 remained in the first period as the Cavs fell behind 33-14 after one.

In a horrible 94-90 loss in Game 3, James scored three points and took a bunch of horrible fadeaway jumpers as the Cavs, up 17 at halftime, were outscored 23-12 in the third period.

Even in Game 4, in which Cleveland displayed some tremendous mettle under trying circumstances to win 104-100, the four-time league MVP scored one point on 0-for-3 shooting as the Cavs, up 10 at intermission, were outscored by eight in the third.

Still, James, who is averaging 32.5 points, 11.8 rebounds and 8.0 assists in 43.0 minutes, is the least of the Cavs’ concerns.

Much more troubling is what Lue may or may not do at any given moment, when Kevin Love might start playing like an All-Star — or even an above-average NBA player — and what in tarnation the Cavs will get from everyone else, J.R. Smith possibly excluded, for the rest of this series.

Lue has taken a lot of heat from fans — and justifiably so — for being slow to adjust to halftime changes made by Indiana counterpart Nate McMillan, but let’s also point out the Cavs have led by at least 15 points in each of the last three games, so their coach deserves some credit for that, too.

In addition, Lue’s decision to double team Victor Oladipo has led to great results — except for Bojan Bogdanovic turning into Larry Bird in the second half of Game 3 — as the Pacers shooting guard is 10-for-35 from the field over the last two games.

Still, Lue has been way too slow in adjusting at the start of the third period. And, just once or twice or three times, it would be great to see him argue with officials on behalf of his players, who are whining way too much themselves (while often not getting back on defense).

Then again, when Lue turns and looks at his bench — even if some of those players are prominent starters who are resting — he has no idea what kind of performance he’s going to get.

Most perplexing — and troubling — has been Love, who hasn’t come anywhere close to filling the playoff vacuum left by the departure of Kyrie Irving.

Love was great in the first half of Game 3, scoring 16 points in a variety of ways. Then he took — count ’em! — two shots as the Cavs scored 33 points in the second half. And one of those was a made 3-pointer in the closing seconds after he tracked down a long offensive rebound in the corner.

While it’s true Love differs from Irving in that he needs teammates to get him the ball — and while it’s also true he has a bum left thumb — it’s even more true that he hasn’t done enough when given the opportunity.

Love picked up two early fouls in Game 4 — one of them a terrible call — and then looked lost offensively the rest of the night, finishing with a grand total of five points on 2-for-10 shooting.

Sure, he grabbed 11 rebounds and played excellent defense against Pacers point guard Darren Collison on two occasions down the stretch, but the Cavs need much more from him — and they need it on a consistent and reliable basis.

That’s especially true given the inconsistent play of everyone else besides James and Smith, who seems to have finally regained his shooter’s mentality while providing excellent, hard-nosed defense against Oladipo.

Jordan Clarkson was terrible in the first three games, had a superb first half in Game 4, then did nothing in the second.

Larry Nance was merely OK early in the series before joining Clarkson in playing superbly in the first half of Game 4, but he also joined Clarkson in doing next to nothing in the second.

Rodney Hood and Jeff Green haven’t done much of anything, the Tristan Thompson experiment didn’t extend past the first half of Game 4, Jose Calderon’s magic has taken a break, up-and-down George Hill missed Game 4 with a bad back and Kyle Korver didn’t score in Games 1 and 3.

The good news for the Cavs is that Korver scored 16 points in the second half of Game 4 on 4-for-5 3-point shooting, including eight in the fourth period that may have saved Cleveland’s season (or at least extended it).

Equally promising news is that the Cavs could easily be up 3-1 — of course, they also could be down 3-1 — and that their defense has been so good that they’ve had big leads three times while still not having a breakout game from behind the 3-pointline.

What’s it all mean?

Conventional wisdom suggests the Cavs will survive and move on. And if I had to bet everything I own, I’d play the odds and go that route, all the while knowing there’s been nothing conventional about this team all season.

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com and follow him @RickNoland on Twitter.

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