Cleveland Cavaliers (15-27) vs. Milwaukee Bucks (8-33)
Venue: Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland.
TV: 7:30 p.m., FOX Sports Ohio (Cavaliers Live pre-game at 7)
MILWAUKEE: C Epke Udoh; PF John Henson; SF Ersan Ilyasova; SG Giannis Antentokounmpo (r); PG Brandon Knight.
CLEVELAND: C Anderson Varejao; PF Tristan Thompson; SF Luol Deng; SG C.J. Miles; PG Kyrie Irving.
* This is the third of five consecutive home games for the Cavs. They lost the first two. How’s that for generating insanity?
* The Bucks are every bit as bad as the Bulls were supposed to be without Carlos Boozer and Kirk Hinrich, and of course, Derrick Rose and Deng. And the Cavs lost to the Bulls at home. Last time the Cavs played the Bucks in Cleveland, it went to overtime. Last time the Cavs and Bucks played at Milwaukee, the Cavs lost. So some of the Bucks’ best games have come against the Cavs. Some of their worst have come against everyone else.
* What is it with the Cavs these days? Unlike so many other teams that have suffered major injuries to their best players, the Cavs have remained mostly healthy. Yet they’re playing like a team that’s trying to patch things together on the fly. I don’t get it, and neither should you.
* On the bright side, Irving was officially selected as an All-Star starter Thursday, per fan voting. Interestingly, some of those same fans (and a few media members) took to Twitter after the announcement and debated whether or not Irving is overrated.
* I don’t think Irving is overrated. I think he’s had an un-Irving-like first half. A lot of teams would take Irving as he is right now. He’s still doggone good most nights. He just doesn’t seem as dynamic as he was in his first two seasons. He’s shooting a career-low 43 percent. He’s averaging almost a point less than last season (21.7, compared to 22.5). His 3-point percentage (.373) and free-throw percentage (.833) are also career-lows. His defense hasn’t really improved. And nobody is exactly calling him Mr. Fourth Quarter anymore.
* Last season, I would’ve told you Irving was a top four or five point guard. This year, I’m not so sure — and Rose and the Celtics’ Rajon Rondo have been injured, so they’re not even in the discussion. You could make the case that Kings point guard Isaiah Thomas, who was drafted 60th overall the same year Irving went first, is every bit as good this year.
* So, what’s the deal? Heck if I know. Mike Brown once warned that sometimes players suffer offensively because they’re exerting more effort on defense in his system. I don’t know that I like that. The Cavs have a pretty-boy point guard. By that, I mean he’s flashy and at his best when he’s in an offense that showcases his skills.
* Not everyone in this league is cut out to be a fantastic defender. Bernard King and Alex English (going way back) were dominant, and each treated defense like an incurable disease. Or ever hear of Kevin Durant? No one has ever accused the Thunder star of locking down opposing small forwards. Same with Knicks star Carmelo Anthony. Then again, he may be a bad example, given the Knicks’ state of constant disarray.
* I’m not saying Irving should ignore defense. He needs to try, and he needs to do better. But sorry, I don’t buy that a player should have to labor on offense because of it.
* One former NBA coach told me that you can’t make a lousy defender into a great one. You can only make him good. The former coach said you can, however, make good ones great. But if you don’t come up with simple ways to put the ball in the basket in this league, you’re going to be in trouble. Even with Rose and great health, coach Tom Thibodeau and the Bulls failed to get past the Heat in the playoffs a few seasons ago. Why? Because they couldn’t score at the same rate. You have to play all areas of the floor well.
* Right now, the Cavs are only occasionally scoring a lot of points when they’re making their jumpers in isolation. Miles has made an obvious improvement defensively, but I’d say overall, the rest of the Cavs are lagging behind.
* Now, some of this is the players’ fault. Brown says he wants them to move the ball. That hasn’t happened nearly enough. I don’t know how you change that. There’s a reason why I carry a laptop, and not a clipboard, for a living. So changing it is on the coach. That’s why they brought him here.
* We can all be too tough on the Cavs. I admit, as a writer, I tend to look at the big picture too much. When you hear the old cliche, ‘one game at a time,’ it’s because that’s how the coaches and players usually view the season. As Deng indicated after the loss to Chicago, the best thing about the NBA is there’s always another game in a night or two. You have a chance to make things right quickly. The Cavs had better do that against the Bucks. Otherwise, I’m not even going to bother reading the emails and tweets sent my way.
* OK, I’ve rambled on long enough, but I have two final thoughts: Perhaps it’s time to put Dion Waiters back in the starting lineup and Anthony Bennett back in the rotation. Not saying I have all the answers. I don’t really have any. But what’s going on now isn’t working. It may be time for the Cavs to shake it up a little.