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Hard times on the hardwood

By Samah Assad

December 6, 2012

Fans filter out of Quicken Loans Arena, their heads slumped as they swallow yet another loss by their Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavaliers themselves follow suit, walking off the hardwood and wondering how such a hard-fought game could result in such an unsatisfying outcome – another loss notched on their record, which consists of only a handful of victories.

This is typically the way things pan out for the Cavaliers this 2012 NBA season as they continue their hefty rebuilding process after the departure of LeBron James for the Miami Heat three seasons ago.

Despite reigning Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving elevating the team to progress, the squad has been unable to close tight games without him on several occasions.

Sidelined with a hairline fracture in his left hand, Irving, who averaged almost 23 points and six assists per game, can only serve as a spectator. From the bench, he witnesses his teammates fight on both ends of the floor but lose energy -- whether it's in the final quarter or the final minute of the game – and drop games repeatedly.

The most disheartening part is that recent losses could have been wins without Irving – many have been at a margin of less then 10 points.

On Dec. 1, the Cavs dropped a double overtime nail-biter at home against the Trailblazers, handing Portland a 118-117 victory they could've called their own had they been more efficient defensively.

While Anderson Varejao has been a monster on the boards averaging 15 rebounds per game, it is difficult to find another consistent defender, let alone shooter, on a team where bench players at best are finding spots in the starting lineup.

While the Cavs' are struggling on defense, the inconsistency also evident through many players on the offensive end. Rookie guard Dion Waiters and third-year forward Alonzo Gee do not hesitate to launch 3-pointers (which sometimes come at extremely questionable times), yet can't seem to move their legs quick enough on defense resulting in too many made shots by the opposing team.

One bright spot for the Cavs this season, however, is guard Jeremy Pargo. Running the court alongside Waiters in place of Irving, Pargo provides a spark on the court averaging almost 12 points per game, and his teammates seem to feed off his confidence.

The Cavs have proven that when they take care of the ball, the offense comes easily. But they must take care of the ball on both ends of the floor – even when it's not in their own hands.

A stronger defensive mentality is the progression point that the Cavs must meet in order to reach any ounce of competitiveness in the NBA, and it's the only thing that can keep them alive in games, especially while Irving is out.for the next few weeks.

While it's obvious that playoffs are not in the picture in the Cavs' near future, there is one thing about them this year – they've been in almost every game they've played this season until the last minute. Their record does not match the resilient effort they have played with recently, but as they continue to take baby steps, the thrillers Cleveland has witnessed thus far provide hope that their effort alone is progression in the making.