PORTLAND, ORE.: Twenty-four thoughts following a miserable 101-82 loss to the Trail Blazers…
1. One of my favorite scenes from “Bull Durham” is when Nuke LaLoosh is throwing a two-hit shutout, but he shakes off Kevin Costner when Costner calls for the fastball. Disgusted the rookie would have the arrogance to shake him off after throwing a gem, Costner tells the batter the curve is coming to teach young LaLoosh a lesson.
2. “Charlie, here comes the deuce,” Costner says. “And when you speak of me, speak well.”
3. James' last basket came with 6:39 left in the second quarter. He took just 12 shots and he missed his last six. But watching James’ demeanor during the game and listening to him afterwards left the impression he’s teaching the young players a lesson: Continue playing as you have in the past and you’ll continue to lose in the future.
4. “My mission is not a one-game thing,” he said. “We have to do multiple things in order to win. We have to share the ball, we have to play defense, we have to sacrifice in order to ultimately win.”
5. James spoke of breaking the bad habits the Cavs built up the last few years. When he says that, he’s speaking directly to Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters. And he’s not the first veteran to say it. When the Cavs were destroyed in a critical late-season loss to the Atlanta Hawks last April that effectively eliminated them from the postseason, Luol Deng’s frustrations similarly boiled over.
6. “We have a lot of good players, a lot of individuals who could take over games, but we have to realize that’s not our strength,” Deng said. “We’ve shown when we share the ball and play together, we’re a different team.”
7. Deng is gone, but James is preaching a similar message. It was striking to me watching LeBron stand around the 3-point line near the end of the first half Tuesday. The Cavs’ only basket over the final 3:23 of the half was a miracle bank shot from Tristan Thompson and they trailed by five in the final seconds. The Cavs had 15 seconds to run a play, but James watched Irving just dribble the ball down and hoist a 3-pointer. James barely moved the entire time. No one really did. LeBron stood there for a moment before walking to the locker room.
8. “There has been a lot of losing basketball around here for a few years,” James said. “A lot of guys who are going to help us win ultimately haven’t played a lot of meaningful basketball games in our league. When we get to that point where every possession matters, no possessions off, we have to share the ball, move the ball and be a team and be unselfish, we’ll be a better team.”
9. James said that could take months. “A lot of people get it misconstrued on what it takes to win, just scoring or just going out and trying to will it yourself,” he said. “It’s a team game and you have to rely on your teammates as well.”
10. The Cavs’ starting backcourt was awful. Kyrie Irving had nine points and five assists, shot 3-for-17 and was thoroughly outplayed by Damian Lillard. Waiters shot 3-for-11 and was yet again pulled midway through the fourth quarter in favor of Matthew Dellavedova.
11. It has been made clear to me in recent days by Cavs deep thinkers they’d like Waiters to really concentrate on two areas: defending like crazy and shooting catch-and-shoot 3-pointers. Waiters’ catch-and-shoot numbers last season were much better than I would’ve predicted:
12. He made 42 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts last season (72-for-173). That ranked 35th in the league (minimum 100 attempts), which was higher than Kevin Love (40 percent) and Irving (32 percent).
13. So when Waiters stayed behind after the team’s morning shootaround Tuesday and worked out for another 40 minutes, after the bus and rest of the players were long gone, it wasn’t surprising to watch him working primarily on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers. Yet when I asked him about focusing on that this season, he dismissed it.
14. “That’s not my game,” he said. “I can do it, but you know what I’m effective at: pick-and-roll and things like that.”
15. Waiters is terrific at attacking the basket and he can be good at other things. But in this season of “sacrifice,” of guys needing to do what’s best to help the team, the Cavs have identified two key areas where Waiters can really help them. And if he doesn’t do what they ask, he’ll sit.
16. Consequently, he has sat for critical stretches of fourth quarters the last two games and he didn’t play at all during the overtime session against the Bulls.
17. The defense, at least for me, is the bigger concern. It isn’t getting any better. The common thought regarding this team since it was assembled was the offense would be dynamite and the defense suspect. Instead both have struggled, but I don’t think anyone is realistically worried about the Cavs scoring enough to win, even if it is jarring to see how badly they’re struggling right now.
18. Defensively is a different matter. It looked to me like Love was on Robin Lopez a fair amount in the first half – perhaps in an effort to keep the defensively-challenged Love away from LaMarcus Aldridge – and Lopez instead went right at him for 13 points in the first half. Aldridge scored eight of his 14 points in the second half.
19. “I just don’t think we brought it tonight. I didn’t think we brought intensity, I didn’t think we brought any kind of mindset to defend and that caught up with us,” David Blatt said. “I thought we got beat an awful lot one-on-one, we got beat on little things, loose balls around the basket and direct dribble drives without paint consequences, without any kind of real effort around the rim.”
20. Shawn Marion conceded he’s more concerned with the defense at this point than the offense. “If we stop people and get out in transition, we can’t be guarded,” Marion said. “That can resolve a lot of stuff. But it’s an overall team thing. Collectively we all have to do it together.”
21. Blatt’s rotations still look choppy. There were stretches in both the first and second half when all three Cavs stars were on the bench, something he said in training camp he didn’t want to have happen.
22. Also of note, James seemed to dismiss Blatt’s fire and brimstone speech he brought after the Cavs lost the opener to the Knicks. The Cavs beat the Bulls hours after Blatt laid into them. “I think pep talks and things of that nature get overblown,” James said. “There’s a lot of pep talks when you lose, too. They just don’t come up.” Be prepared: it sounds like another blistering speech is coming Wednesday before the Cavs play the Jazz. Blatt said he didn't deliver a message after Tuesday's game because he was saving it for Wednesday.
23. James likened this transition phase the Cavs are in to the time he rebuilt a 1972 baby blue Chevy Caprice from scratch. “I hated the process, got on my nerves, sent it back to get repainted 100 times,” he said. “It came back and still wasn’t done. Once it was completely finished I was excited about it. That’s what it feels like.”
24. Right now the Cavs aren’t even to the paint job yet. They’re still working on the engine. Tuesday was James letting the young kids see what happens when they continue to play as they have in past years. And when the Blazers speak of him, they’ll speak well. See you in Utah.