The Cleveland Cavaliers have low-balled the expectations. You can’t blame money. $110 million was thrown at the problem. You can’t blame LeBron James. He is equal parts accountable, responsible and willing to embark on a course of tough love. You can’t blame the schedule. The Cavaliers have yet to leave for the west coast.
Any thought of the Cavaliers swiftly getting through the regular season unscathed has been put to rest. Instead, the fugue surrounded the Cavs is a familiar inhale of angst, as if this is the end of June and a NBA Finals loss instead of December and a shot at redemption.
Very little has structurally changed despite the bloated payroll. If the Cavs don’t have LeBron James heroics then the likelihood of the Cavs losing on the road where they look very ordinary is exponentially high.
At Milwaukee, the Cavs lost in double overtime. At Detroit they were manhandled and lost by 5. At Toronto they lost by four. They beat Charlotte by five and then last night they lost to a New Orleans team that had won only four games on the season.
Five road games. Four losses. Two overtime games. 153 LeBron James points scored. 99 assists. 106 bench points. A lot of exasperation.
James first blamed it on mental toughness. Then he said the team wasn’t ready to fight all the way through to the end, attaching the pejorative soft to some of his teammates. It doesn’t matter what he says now or how many team meetings the Cavs have or how eloquent their autopsy happens to be post-game, the trend speaks for itself. Contenders don’t have losing road records.
The Cavs are 4-5 on the road. They look beatable, bored and very average.
The Cavaliers were so lethargic and disinterested on Tuesday night, they let a below .500 Wizards team come into the Q and roll over them without much resistance. Three nights later they had spurts of grandeur but nothing resembling consistency. And their defense was optional.
The Pelicans shot 49%. Anthony Davis was brilliantly effective and he was supposed to be. But it was Eric Gordon, a 41% shooter on the season, who shot 77% and 80% from three. Jrue Holliday, another 41% shooter, hit the game tying shot and 50% of his shots went in.
The Cavaliers are creating bad habits that may just stick if they don’t figure out a way to correct them. Going up against the Heat in Miami tonight, LeBron’s former public haven, is a wake up call. Their recent history of road ineptness has to be buried for the sake of pride. Forget LeBron’s buddy Dwyane Wade and the ever present Chris Bosh. Hassan Whiteside controls the paint, Goran Dragic is a solid perimeter player and Justise Winslow can defend. The Heat have their own problems but they are pretty consistent at home.
Here is where the Kyrie Irving excuse is dropped into the conversation. When Irving is back, the Cavs will be ready to turn the switch and roll through the league. If only that dream scenario were true. Irving’s defense is as bad as everyone else on the Cavs and his offense will balance things out only if he comes back the same. But who knows what type of player returns. What will we even see?
No longer does LeBron James on the roster mean pencil the Cavs in for another title run and it’s time to face facts. James is older now and far less tolerant of his teammates flaws than he used to be. He is the only one of the Cavs with a heightened sense of urgency. Frustrating for him, he hasn’t been able to fully suffocate the team with his own desperation. Is he the only one who understands that the Cavs have to earn a trip to the Finals, no one is going to just hand them wins, that LeBron James is no guarantee for anything?
Conquering the bad habits with discipline, erasing boredom and morose body language when they play on the road is the most basic prescription and it sounds a little infantile. But it’s true. When the fourth quarter comes around and the Cavs depend solely on LeBron James to save them, they are setting themselves up to fail long term. The league has too much depth and scoring and ball movement and self-worth.
I guess $110 million doesn’t buy what it used to. Blame inflation.
photo via llananba