A huge night from LeBron James and Anthony Davis leaving the game early didn’t help the Cleveland Cavaliers hide their defensive problems, losing 119-114 to the New Orleans Pelicans, enjoying excellent performances from Tyreke Evans and the hot hand of Ryan Anderson.
Davis played only 7 minutes (in which he scored 8 points) but left with a chest contusion. That didn’t stop the Pelicans from getting back to .500, improving to 7-2 at home this season. Ryan Anderson hit eight 3-pointers, scoring 31 points, and Tyreke Evans scored 30 points to go with 10 assists. The Cavs made it very easy for Jrue Holiday and Evans to sift through their defense and create open shots, which the Pelicans hit on 55.7% while also going 42.9% from beyond the arc, most of that being Anderson’s work.
After losing to the Thunder without James, things should have been better for the Cavaliers, but part of what worked so well for them on their 8-game win streak was playing Eastern teams and doing it at home. James scored 41 points on 17-of-24 from the field but missed some crucial free throws (5-of-8), got no help from his bench (only two points for Waiters and four for Tristan Thompson) or from Kyrie Irving.
Irving had another rough shooting night, maybe still having problems with his knee. He shot just 7-of-19 from the field to score 17 points with 7 assists, but he’s making just 14-of-40 shots in the two losses, trying a bit too hard to force his way onto the scoresheet, when he clearly should be trying to do a bit more “point guardy” things, especially with James in such excellent shooting form. Kevin Love scored 21 points, making 10-of-11 from the line, but he remains mostly an outside figure, not trying to influence or force himself on the game too much.
This was James’ 40th 40-5-5 game of his career, trailing only Michael Jordan with 58 of them in the past 30 seasons. It’s great watching him play like there’s nothing he can’t do, but the Cavaliers won’t be going far with their defense having these kind of mood swings and making it so easy for slashers to generate open shots. Having the bench getting outpreformed by just one player isn’t the way to succeed, and certainly not catch up with the teams in the Eastern conference.
For the Pelicans, despite the win, the Davis injury comes as a blow. In terms of PER, there’s no one in the league coming even close. Davis might be disappointing defensively along with Asik, but his 32.9 PER is on pace to be the highest in the history of the NBA, although it’s really too soon to tell if this is going to be kept up for the rest of this season. Wilt Chamberlain with 31.8 has the all-time high.
James continues to smash records and extend them for the Cavs franchise, with his 44 career games for them with 40 points or more not just way ahead of everyone else: All the other players have 29 games combined with 40 points or more. Despite leaving the franchise to play for the Heat for four years, it doesn’t seem there’s any risk of his numbers for the Cavaliers being overtaken in the foreseeable future.