TORONTO: Twenty-four thoughts for 24 3-point attempts in Friday’s 99-97 loss to the Toronto Raptors…



1. After Ohio State lost to Michigan State to derail its national title hopes, LeBron James was asked about the game and their season. His response, paraphrased, was essentially he could see it coming because despite all of their talent, they struggled to play consistently well throughout the season and it finally caught up with them.



2. Walking out of Air Canada Centre on this night, it certainly seems to apply to his team as well. Twice the Cavs filed into the visitors locker room here following a loss this season and twice now LeBron James ended his evening muttering to teammates about another poor performance. The only thing missing was the players-only meeting they called after the loss here in November.



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2. One of the most frustrating teams in the league did what they do best: They frustrated. They kicked away not one, but two double-digit leads against the one team in position to take away their home-court advantage in the East.



3. They eased up. They stopped defending the pick-and-roll. (Actually they never started defending it). Kyrie Irving was put on a spit by Kyle Lowry and turned and turned and turned over and over and over. Lowry made some terrific shots, but he also found little resistance in getting to his spots on the floor. That’s on Irving, whose on-ball defense has deteriorated from bad to worse.



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4. On a night DeMar DeRozan struggled while playing through flu-like symptoms and the Raptors received nothing from their front court, they still managed to erase a 14-point deficit over the game’s final 16 minutes because Lowry kept coming. Read carefully and you’ll understand why.



5. “Down the stretch Kyle Lowry took over the game,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. “That’s the second time he’s done that to us, so going forward we’ve got to get somebody that can guard him.”



6. Quite a shot over the bow. Lue was forced to sub Irving out in offense/defense situations in the final minute. Lowry roared past Irving in the final vote count for a starting spot at All-Star weekend, then roared by him again and again on Friday.



7. “He just had a hell of a game,” James said. “But that’s what All-Stars do.”



8. Read into that what you will.



9. The Cavs proved last season they don’t need home-court advantage to reach the Finals. They swept the Hawks in the conference finals, but they sure aren’t making it easy on themselves. A win Friday – and they led by nine with 5:38 left – would have given them a commanding four-game lead in the standings with 25 to go. And since they would own the tiebreaker, it would actually be a five-game lead.



10. Instead, their lead is down to two games, and since the Raptors now own the tiebreaker, it’s actually more like one game.



11. The Cavs, led by James, have maintained an even-keel approach to games this season. James has insisted all along he doesn’t put too much into one win or one loss in an 82-game season, but this one stung everyone. Asked if this was a big game given all that was at stake, Kevin Love didn’t hesitate: “Anybody who says it wasn’t is lying to you.”



12. The Cavs’ pick-and-roll defense has been broken for a few games now. Lue thought his team was so concerned with lobs to Andre Drummond during Monday’s loss to the Pistons that the defense allowed their guards to turn the corner and drive the lane for easy baskets. The same was true Friday.



13. Lowry went to the free-throw line 15 times in part because the perimeter defense was so poor the bigs were put in tough positions much of the night.



14. “We have to do a better job of guarding the pick-and-rolls,” J.R. Smith said. “That’s really what’s killing us the last couple games.”



15. It doesn’t get any easier Sunday with John Wall, a lightning-quick point guard who can really damage opponents in pick-and-rolls.



16. This isn’t meant to pile on Irving. Lowry beat Matthew Dellavedova and Iman Shumpert off the dribble at times, too. But Irving’s defensive shortcomings are becoming more and more noticeable – to everyone. And he couldn’t even compensate for it offensively.



17. Irving shot 4 of 11, scored 10 points and produced just one assist. After Irving scored 34 points without an assist in an early loss last season at Utah, James famously told him he could never have another zero-assist game as the point guard. It wasn’t long after that game when James took the ball from Irving and began initiating himself last season. We could be headed back there again.



18. It’s the third time this season Irving finished with just one assist, but one of those games was the victory at Oklahoma City when he departed in the first quarter and didn’t return. The other time was a victory at Houston to conclude a long road trip, when the Rockets inexplicably showed zero interest in competing.



19. The maddening part about this team is watching them dismantle the Thunder on the road, then lose at home to the Pistons the following night. Not to mention giving away big leads in losses to the Celtics and now the Raptors.



20. “We felt like we played well most of the game,” Love said. “We had times we let them back into it.”



21. While Lue wanted to win so badly he played James the entire second half, James reiterated prior to the game seedings are more important to everyone else than they are to him.



22. “That doesn’t take away from the fact that we want to be the No. 1 seed,” James said. “No one wants to finish second. But for me personally, my personal beliefs, this has nothing to do with these guys in here or the coaching staff or the team, you put me as one of the top eight seeds in the playoffs, I believe I can win a playoff series. So it doesn’t matter for me personally.”



23. It’s confusing at times. James has been the one saying he doesn’t always see them playing with a sense of urgency, yet he’s also the one who isn’t worried about records or seedings and just wants to get in, then he’ll take it from there. He proved last season he can. This was the biggest remaining game on their schedule. The rest of the way is littered with teams like the Clippers, Celtics and Bulls – certainly worth watching, but not exactly carrying the juice of the Thunder or a 1 vs. 2 matchup.



24. At least a couple of players still privately feel like when they’re up against it, when it’s must-win situations in the postseason, they will shine. They might be right. Of course, the Buckeyes felt that way, too. Talk to you Sunday from Washington.