The Cleveland Cavaliers sure know how to bounce back in a season. After a 5-7 start, including a four-game losing streak, LeBron James and the Cavs have won 12 straight, the latest a 113-91 victory over the Chicago Bulls on Monday night.
Cleveland tied its franchise record for consecutive road wins with seven (set in 1997) and needs one more win to tie the franchise’s longest regular-season winning streak of 13 games, set by the 2009-10 squad. This was also the Cavs’ 17th game in a row with at least 100 points, something they hadn’t done since the 1988-89 season when they scored 100 or more in a team-record 19 contests.
“I think the guys deserve a lot of credit for putting the work in, there’s been a lot of different lineup changes, guys getting in better shape, guys continue to put the work in,” Coach Tyronn Lue told reporters after Monday’s game. “I just think from where we started to where we’re at now, guys are in a better place. It’s good to see. I think they’re having fun and enjoying playing basketball.”
They’re also playing better defense, limiting opponents to just 102.7 points per 100 possessions — good for eighth in the league over that span. Cleveland had a league-worst defensive rating of 113.1 during the first 12 games of the season.
|2017-18 Cavaliers||Wins||Losses||Effective field goal percentage allowed||Points allowed per 100 possessions|
|First 12 games||5||7||56.1%||113.1|
|12-game win streak||12||0||50.3%||102.7|
Part of the defensive surge has been, according to Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com, a result of the team “blitzing,” or double-teaming the ballhandler on the pick and roll, more often. It’s a risky style that entails switching defenders on the perimeter regardless of position and aggressively trapping ball handlers when appropriate. The Cavaliers are starting to have consistent success with it — Cleveland is allowing 0.736 points per possession to the ballhandler on the pick and roll this season, second only to the Oklahoma City Thunder (0.697). The Cavs also have the fifth-lowest effective field goal rate against (41.9 percent).
Lue has also seen improvement in his team’s ability to limit open attempts off the catch-and-shoot. Last season, 59 percent of the opposition’s attempts off the catch-and-shoot were classified by Synergy Sports as “unguarded.” This year those open looks account for just half of all catch-and-shoot attempts against. During the streak, that number has dropped even further to 48 percent.
So how long can we expect the win streak continue? Based on their points scored and allowed this season, we would forecast the Cavaliers to have a 15-9 record (.625 win rate), two wins fewer than their actual tally. They outscored opponents 1,354 to 1,225 over the last 12 games, giving us an estimated win rate of .802. Regressing the 12-0 record to account for the small sample size yields a win rate of .727. If we average those three methods — giving Cleveland credit for improvement but not forgetting they struggled at the start of the season — we can presume the true talent of this team, at this moment, to be one that can win close to 72 percent of its games, equal to a 59-win season over a standard, 82-game schedule. Using that, and simulating the Cavaliers’ remaining schedule 10,000 times, taking into account home-court advantage, predicts the win streak has a 90 percent chance of extending to 13 but less than a 50/50 chance of going past 14. They have almost no chance of catching the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers, whose 33-game win streak is an NBA record.
For example, the Cavaliers have a 89 percent chance of beating the Kings on Wednesday at home but a 63 percent chance of beating the Pacers on the road. If they can win those two games, the next tough matchup isn’t until Dec. 17, when the Cavs take on the Washington Wizards (58 percent). In fact, Cleveland is favored in every game leading up to Christmas, when they will travel to Golden State to face the Warriors (39 percent win probability).
|Win streak lasting n games||Probability||Odds|
|22||3%||34-to-1||2007-08 Rockets, 1970-71 Bucks|
|28||0%||714-to-1||2014-15 and 2015-16 Warriors (4+24)|