CLEVELAND: Twenty-two thoughts tonight for 22 points from Jarrett Jack in a 100-96 loss to the Heat at the Q.
1. It’s fascinating how dramatically things can change in such a short period of time. Tonight was LeBron James’ final visit to the Q before he can become a free agent this summer. For the last 2 ½ years, I expected that to be an intense night, with so many questions swirling around his future. Instead it passed like so many other of his trips here as a member of the Heat.
2. There were the obligatory pregame questions. I asked him if he thought his number would hang in the rafters here one day like Zydrunas Ilgauskas’, the AP’s Tom Withers (who had as good of a relationship with LeBron when he was here as anyone) hit him with “Do you want to play for the Cavs again some day?”
3. James has heard all of these questions before. Sometimes he answers them, usually he doesn’t. With the playoffs so close, and with his steadfast refusal all season to answer questions about free agency, no one was surprised when he swatted away the questions like a Spencer Hawes dunk attempt (that was a big boy block. Oh my). That’s the game we play with these guys. We ask the questions knowing he’s not going to answer them and he knows before he stands up there he’s going to get the questions – and knows he’s not going to answer them. Yet we still dance to the song.
4. I’ve written multiple times that James is incredibly smart and media savvy. He takes conversations exactly where he wants them to go and he swats down anything he doesn’t feel like talking about. For the last couple of years, he hasn’t really answered any questions about a potential return. He said everything he wanted to say on the subject 2 ½ years ago. Since then, it has essentially been radio silence.
5. James clearly pays attention to the Cavs, however. To be fair, he is a fan of the league and often watches games involving other teams. But he always seems to be locked in to what’s happening in Cleveland. He said he was watching the Cavs game Sunday when Kyrie Irving was injured and he admitted he’s surprised the Cavs have struggled so badly this season.
6. “From the beginning of the season, the acquisitions Chris Grant was able to bring in I thought would make them a better team,” he said. “Bringing in Bynum, bringing in Jarrett Jack and Earl Clark, I thought that would make them a better team. Obviously it has not worked out that way.”
7. James has said previously he likes the pieces the Cavs have acquired and he reiterated that Tuesday. “They have some really, really good pieces. Who am I to say they should play better or not?” he said. “I’m not there with them every day, I’m not coaching them, I’m not playing. From the beginning of the season, I think we all would say they’d be in better contention in the East.”
8. James’ best line of the night came at the end of his pregame availability, when Withers asked him if he’d filled out his NCAA bracket yet. James said he hadn’t because he’s not any good at those. Then someone else asked him why he wouldn’t want to win the $1 billion Dan Gilbert and Warren Buffett are putting up for a perfect bracket.
9. “I’m just going to ask him for it,” James joked. I don’t know if he was referring to Gilbert or Buffett (he has a relationship with Buffett), but it was a great line, particularly since (however likely or unlikely you believe the odds of it happening) he has the opportunity to take plenty of Gilbert’s money again this summer.
10. I’m going to be interested to see how Dion Waiters reacts to the increased attention he’s about to face. Moving back into the starting lineup, his defensive responsibilities will increase because he’s presumably guarding better players. On top of that, no Irving means Waiters could face more double teams than he’s used to seeing.
11. That was the case Tuesday. The Heat attacked Waiters with double teams, particularly late in the game, and Waiters looked unsure how to handle it. He burned the Cavs’ last timeout with 1:27 left as a result of a double team. Teams really started defending Irving differently this season and I think it took him a while to adjust. Now Waiters will have to deal with it for as long as Irving is out.
12. Speaking of Waiters, I don’t think there’s any question he was fouled late in the game. James was credited with the block, but after studying the replay it looks like Udonis Haslem actually got the block and certainly committed the foul. Haslem crashed into Waiters on the block, sending Waiters sprawling to the court, where he landed awkwardly on his hip. Waiters has been complaining of back pain the last few days and his knee is still sore from his injury a few weeks ago. Now he can add a bad hip to the list.
13. Brown rarely ever sees anything negative about the officials. And while I don’t think he said anything worthy of a fine, I was surprised he openly questioned whether the league’s elite teams get more calls than the bad teams (they obviously do). Brown paused for a few minutes and seemed to choose his words carefully when asked about the no-call on Waiters.
14. “As a coach you kind of get tired of complaining about calls. Officials are human. They’re going to make mistakes,” he said. “Then they can tell you whatever they want to tell you.” Brown said he didn’t bother asking the officials for an explanation. “It’s up to them to make the call,” he said. “If they feel he didn’t get hit, whether they felt that or not after the fact, Miami still won. We have to find a better way to close out games, finish games and not rely on officials’ calls.”
15. Brown is trying to keep his players from blaming the officials every time a call goes against the Cavs. Waiters, particularly, thinks he’s fouled every time he goes to the rim and doesn’t score. But he was clearly fouled on that play. This guy thought so, too.
That is beyond incredible. What a complete and total joke and tra— Dan Gilbert (@cavsdan) March 19, 2014
16. “We’re not going to get much help in that area,” Brown said. “I think until you become the Miami Heat or become a winning team, you might (not) get some calls down the stretch. It’s not worth me asking them why they missed it or not. You have to move on to the next game.”
17. I was fairly impressed with the Cavs’ ball movement against the Heat. Guys were cutting without the ball, Jack, Waiters and Matthew Dellavedova did a great job of pushing the tempo and the ball zipped around the court. That’s a big reason why the Cavs were shooting 60 percent through three quarters despite missing both Luol Deng and Irving.
18. For the Cavs to win this game, given their injuries, the Heat were going to have to do a lot of things wrong. They certainly cooperated by going 20-for-31 at the free-throw line (James missed four of his first five before recovering) and shooting 12-for-30 on 3-pointers. Actually, James and Bosh combined to go 8-for-13 on 3-pointers. The rest of the Heat went 4-for-17. Ray Allen was 2-for-9 on an off shooting night. He had plenty of wide-open looks, he just missed most of them.
19. Tristan Thompson played in Sunday’s loss at the Clippers despite battling food poisoning throughout the night before, so he gets an excuse there, but he is struggling at both ends lately. Thompson dismissed it before the game as typical ups and downs to a season, but Brown only played him 21 minutes against the Heat. He instead elected to play Anderson Varejao and Spencer Hawes together quite a bit.
20. If LeBron is in town, then the town idiots must be planning a court storming. Sure enough, they were. One idiot took to Twitter to encourage people retweet his stupid idea, declaring he’d rush the floor if he received 1,000 retweets (I feel dumber for having even typed that sentence. You should feel dumber for having read it. And if you’re one of those 1,000-plus who retweeted it, you’re an accomplice to an idiot. I hope you’re happy.)
21. Fortunately, the idiot sort of gave away his seat location and the viral retweetapalooza got the Cavs’ attention, since, you know, they’ve been through this enough the last couple of seasons to know how to find derelicts both on Twitter and in the crowd. They kicked the kid out, but not before first pulling him into a room with a bunch of unhappy police officers (according to his Twitter account), then booted him from the arena and gloated about it on their own official Twitter account.
22. The loss was the 42nd of the season, assuring the Cavs their fourth consecutive losing season. They also fell six games out of the final playoff spot with 14 to play. Hopefully Nick Gilbert kept that lucky bow tie. Talk to you Thursday after Oklahoma City.