CLEVELAND: Fifteen thoughts for 15 points from Spencer Hawes in his first start for the Cavs in what was a 99-93 loss to the Toronto Raptors…
1. I thought this year would be different, but it’s not. Every year around this time, I hit the wall. Then the wall falls on me. It’s tough writing about losses, injuries and missed playoff hopes year after year.
2. Up until the trade deadline, there’s always plenty to write about. This season, covering this team, there has really been too much to cover. But once you get through the trade deadline, the final eight weeks of the season can feel like a death march.
3. That’s how it felt to me each of the last three years, and looking at the Cavs’ injuries and the schedule ahead, that’s how this is starting to feel, too.
4. I was talking to a wise basketball mind Monday, someone who has been around this league longer than I have and knows far more about it than I do. I’m paraphrasing here, but he said the bill is coming due now for all the Cavs’ antics in January. I thought that was a succinct way to put it. All of those games they kicked away because they were pouting/not trying/whatever certainly are looming large now. Now they’re trying, now they’re playing hard and giving great effort, but it’s too late. Now all the injuries have hit and they simply don’t have the firepower to keep up against the good teams.
5. I just quickly flipped through the schedule and counted six games the Cavs gave away they should’ve won. I’m sure there are more, but off the top of my head I counted early-season losses at Milwaukee and Philadelphia, then a pair of losses to the Celtics, the huge blown lead against the Suns and the terrible loss at home to the Lakers.
6. I’m not trying to play the woulda/coulda/shoulda game, but those six games are the difference in a 28-30 record and the seventh seed in the East and this 22-36 injury-riddled mess they’re sitting in now. I stood in a hallway talking to a Cavs executive at Milwaukee after that bad loss in the fifth game of the season. I told him these are the types of games they’d wish they had back come April if they missed the playoffs by a game or two. Turns out, it looks like they’ll miss the playoffs by much more than that, but the point remains.
7. Mike Brown understands perfectly that this season is slipping away and he’s doing his best to avoid the death march I’ve endured each of the last three years. It’s why he played Kyrie Irving the entire second half and 45 minutes for the game.
8. Irving left the game with 1:31 left in the first quarter and the Cavs down 23-17. He returned 1 minute, 18 seconds into the second quarter with the Cavs down 26-17 and played the rest of the way.
9. The Cavs went 0-for-5 on possessions while Irving was out of the game, and most of those featured a lot of dribbling from Jarrett Jack, who missed a pull-up jumper and a contested fadeaway from the elbow on two of those five possessions. The other three ended with Anthony Bennett missing from a foot away with a hand in his face, Alonzo Gee turning the ball over when a pass from Bennett sailed right through his hands and Matthew Dellavedova heaving from beyond 30 feet at the first-quarter buzzer.
10. After the Cavs struggled to even get Jack that contested fadeaway from the elbow, Brown had seen enough and went back to Irving the rest of the way.
11. Irving and the Cavs had a tough finish. He missed his last five shots and every questionable call went against them. Some were worse than others. I thought the two most egregious were at the end of the game, when Zeller was flatted by DeMar DeRozan trying to catch a pass and then when Amir Johnson turned his back and collided with Irving at the rim. Johnson wasn’t even trying to make a play on the ball, yet he wasn’t called for the foul. They were two big calls in the final minute and both went against the Cavs.
12. “The referees aren’t why we lost the game, but there were a couple of calls…” Brown said. “That’s stuff we don’t have control over. We have to be able to play through it and find a way to still get a win.”
13. He’s right. But the bad calls certainly don’t help.
14. Bennett regressed tonight. He played 8 ½ minutes and he was terrible. He missed all five of his shots, turned it over three times (two on traveling calls) and was whistled for a technical for slamming the ball down in frustration. Whenever Anderson Varejao returns, one of the bigs is going to lose significant minutes. It could be Bennett, since it’s happening already. Brown went with Zeller and Spencer Hawes together for most of the fourth quarter. It’s a look they may go to again.
15. The grind continues with a visit to Oklahoma City on Wednesday. See you then.