That might sound hyperbolic, but the numbers don’t lie — and they aren’t pretty.
Thomas’s performance Tuesday night in Cleveland’s 125-114 loss to the Detroit Pistons didn’t help. He finished a minus-25 in 33 minutes (with much of that damage coming during a 17-3 Pistons run over a 3:40 stretch in the middle of the fourth quarter that put the game away), scoring 19 points but shooting just 3 for 10 overall and 1 for 4 from three-point range (though he did go 12 for 13 from the foul line) with six turnovers.
Cleveland is being outscored by an astronomical 15.1 points per 100 possessions in the 289 minutes across 11 games in which Thomas has played since making his season debut on Jan. 2.
In the 334 minutes Thomas has been off the court since then, the Cavaliers are outscoring their opponents by a point per 100 possessions — a 16.1-point swing.
What makes these results more remarkable: He’s played the vast majority of his minutes with LeBron James.
In the 239 minutes James and Thomas have shared the court over those 11 games, Cleveland has been outscored by a staggering 17.2 points per 100 possessions. Meanwhile, in the 1,574 minutes the Cavaliers have had James on the court without Thomas, Cleveland has outscored its opponents by two points per 100 possessions.
Much has been made recently about how James has a negative plus-minus for the first time since his rookie season. That is a result of the awful pairing of James and Thomas; James is plus-78 without Thomas and minus-90 with him.
Sunday in Cleveland, Thomas told reporters that Cleveland’s issues are not solely his fault.
“We’ve been a lowest five [rated] defensive team in the NBA the whole time [this season],” Thomas said. “So when I come back, it’s my fault now. Which, life isn’t fair, but that’s not fair, bro. At all. I just laugh at those things because I know in this circle and this team, everybody believes in each other, and everybody’s in here for it to work and for us to be playing in June. That’s the ultimate goal.”
Thomas is right — the Cavaliers have been an awful defensive team all season. After Tuesday’s loss, they are the worst defensive team in the NBA, allowing 109.8 points per 100 possessions, and Thomas certainly isn’t the only reason.
But in those 289 minutes Thomas has played, the Cavaliers are allowing opponents to score an insane 118.2 points per 100 possessions. With Thomas on the bench, Cleveland is allowing opposing teams to score 108.6 points per 100 possessions — almost a 10-point difference.
Thomas never has been known as a defensive force, so it isn’t surprising that Cleveland is in even worse shape with him on the court than on the bench. But with Thomas looking so bad offensively — he’s shooting 38.6 percent overall and 27.3 percent from three-point range while getting up a shot every two minutes he’s on the court — his presence has only exacerbated Cleveland’s problems.
Thomas never should have been put in this position. NBA teams need to send rehabbing players to their G-League affiliates the way Major League Baseball franchises use their minor league teams. After seven months away, Thomas should have played in the G-League for a few weeks, working on his timing and his shot.
As Thomas himself said, the goal for Cleveland is to be playing at its best in June, not January. Right now, though, he’s creating far more problems than he’s solving.
>>> Houston Rockets star James Harden became the first player in NBA history to have a 60-point triple-double Tuesday night. But to achieve his remarkable performance, he had to play 46 minutes in a 114-107 victory at home over the hapless Orlando Magic.
There were extenuating circumstances: Chris Paul and Trevor Ariza sat out Tuesday with injuries, and Eric Gordon left the game after 10 minutes with a back injury. But Houston’s lack of guard depth underscores a flaw in its roster, one General Manager Daryl Morey undoubtedly will try to rectify, either before the Feb. 8 trade deadline, or before the March 1 deadline for players to be bought out, sign with another team and be eligible for the playoffs.
Expect Houston to add at least one ballhandler before March 1 so that Harden (or Paul) aren’t overly taxed before the postseason.
>>> The Washington Wizards got a desperately needed win Tuesday night, knocking off the Oklahoma City Thunder at home on the same day my colleague Candace Buckner reported star guard John Wall is going to be out for six to eight weeks due to surgery on his left knee.
One potential bright spot: Wall’s injury will provide an opportunity for Otto Porter Jr. to show he can take on a larger role, specifically on offense. Tuesday, he delivered, scoring 25 points on 8 for 13 shooting, including a clutch basket down the stretch.
The Wizards are going to need Porter to be a reliable second option next to Bradley Beal if they are to survive without Wall for the next few weeks. With only 4.5 games separating the fifth-place Wizards from the ninth-place Pistons, they can’t afford to slide too far back, and it will be up to Porter to play a significant role in keeping them where they are. If he can, it will further solidify the belief that the Wizards have to do more to keep him involved on a nightly basis when their two star guards are healthy and in the lineup.
Now is Porter’s chance to prove that is the case. Tuesday night was a good starting point.
>>> The biggest winner of the past few days might have been the Utah Jazz.
With DeMarcus Cousins out for the year with a torn Achilles’ tendon and Blake Griffin off to Detroit, both the New Orleans Pelicans and Los Angeles Clippers have taken steps back in their quest to make the playoffs this season. To that end, both lost at home Tuesday night — the Pelicans to the lowly Sacramento Kings, and the Clippers to the Trail Blazers as they were without the players they received in the Griffin trade.
Utah, meanwhile, put a beating on the Golden State Warriors, winning by 30 points. The Jazz are now 3.5 games behind the Clippers for eighth in the West, and five games behind the Pelicans in seventh. That is a big gap, but the Pelicans could drop like a stone without Cousins, and Utah finally has center Rudy Gobert healthy.
It also will be fascinating to see if the combination of recent events around the West, as well as a failed trade between the Pelicans and Chicago Bulls for Nikola Mirotic will cause the Jazz — who have been rumored to have interest in him — to attempt to get him again. Mirotic, in theory, would be a perfect fit alongside Gobert in Utah’s frontcourt, and could be a big boost to their hopes of trying to catch the teams in front of them and get back in the playoffs again.