The Cleveland Cavaliers barely showed up in San Antonio. Their bodies were there but their heads were not. They looked listless and disinterested and at one point trailed by 33 points. When you are in that kind of a swoon against Gregg Popovich you are going to get served. Even LeBron James made mention of it.
“The way we were struggling, this is the last team you want to play.”
The Cavs are no longer the top seed in the East which matters only because this is a team that has played more games than any other team in their conference the past two years. Fatigue is a very real punishment for their success and some say karma too. Sitting players for their prime time game against the Clippers didn’t help much. Yes, they beat the pathetic Lakers the next game but just barely. In the Lakers game, 40% shooter D’Angelo Russell went off for 40 points, shooting 63%, a microcosm of the Cavaliers problems that should engender panic but won’t because they are the defending champions.
When a team has won a title, and won it the way the Cavs won it in Oakland, they are given the benefit of the doubt. The Cavs did something that wasn’t just extraordinary, it was historical. But as much praise and glory as the Cavs should receive for what they accomplished in beating down the Warriors last June when the Warriors had a 3-1 lead, that is over.
If the Cavs don’t finish the job this year like the Warriors couldn’t finish the job last year, if they don’t repeat as champions then the question needs to be asked: were the Cleveland Cavaliers a miracle story that belongs to history and that is it?
After losing to the Spurs Tyronn Lue said, “they just beat us off the dribble, transition, just looking faster.” LeBron James calls the situation with the Cavs “delicate” as if a strong wind can blow this house to smithereens.
LeBron James has three NBA titles. Two of those titles he won with the best record in his conference. His first title in Miami, he was the runner-up to the Bulls as far as best record. It was Derrick Rose’s first knee injury and the Bulls were knocked out the playoffs in the first round. So LeBron is familiar with strange playoff luck or disaster.
It is not the losing that has the Cavs in this awful funk. These last 10 games of the regular season are the prologue for what comes next. But they are losing in a way that is demoralizing. They just can’ seem to stop anybody.
“We’re just not playing good basketball right now.” (LeBron James)
The Cavs are 7-10 in their last 17 games. In 6 of the 10 losses they didn’t score 100 points. In half of their losses, they have given up 115 points or more, three times giving up more than 120 points. 7 of the 10 losses have been on the road and that matters because they want us to believe it is inconsequential if they don’t have home court. The evidence seems to say the opposite.
LeBron James and his herculean talents have a way of blurring the lines so you think what you see is not what you are really seeing. After all, the Cavs have beaten the Celtics twice this year. No one is suggesting that the Celtics are equipped to handle the Cavs in a seven game series. The Wizards are a different story. They will tire the Cavs out in the second round. They have plenty of scorers. They play fast. They have depth. And this is the second year they have beaten the Cavs at the Q in the regular season.
If getting through the East is going to be a long, exhausting nightmarish haul, what will the Cavs have left in the Finals?
LeBron has only lost one NBA Finals as a champion. It happened in 2014 and he lost in the Finals to the Spurs. The Cavs are way off from that- so many things have to take place, have to fall out of order- but this end of the season has a weird kind of vibe to it.
Going into the playoffs the Cavs are not where they want to be. Bad habits are continuing and the East, with the Wizards and Celtics rested and not scared, is an interesting, albeit dangerous calculus. Without meaning to what the Cavs have done in this swoon of theirs is expose themselves and show their hand. They are mortal now, not invincible.
No one is scared of them anymore.
photo via llananba