WASHINGTON: Sixteen thoughts for 16 third-quarter points in Sunday’s 113-99 loss to the Washington Wizards…
1. It was exactly a week ago that the Cavaliers were celebrating perhaps their finest win of the season. They dismantled the Oklahoma City Thunder on the road and finally looked like the team their talent and payroll indicates they should have been all along.
2. Since then they struggled terribly in a home loss to the Pistons, blew a nine-point lead in the last six minutes to lose at Toronto and then never bothered to show up for Sunday’s loss to the Wizards. That five-game winning streak, that included the stomping of the Thunder, has given way to losing three of four in spectacularly mediocre fashion.
3. This is a team that can’t stand prosperity, nor does it know how to handle it.
4. “We can’t play basketball like this going down the stretch,” said J.R. Smith, the lone voice of truth and reason in a locker room of denial. “If we’re serious about who we’re supposed to be then we can’t do this.”
5. The late collapse not withstanding, Tyronn Lue insisted he was encouraged by the Toronto game because the Cavs were in command despite Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving not shooting well. Love had little explanation for how the Cavs could’ve played so badly. Smith, meanwhile, was blunt and transparent.
6. “If you lose a game like the other night to a team like Toronto and come out here and play the way we did and you had a lack of energy, maybe we shouldn’t be in this position,” he said. “I don’t know. It’s tough. If we’re going to play with a lack of energy after losing a game on the road and come out and play the way we did today then we shouldn’t be who we are and be in these uniforms.”
7. Lue had to rest LeBron James after James played the entire second half of Friday’s loss to the Raptors. Only the Cavs played so poorly Sunday that James didn’t stick around for the conclusion. He headed for the locker room with 5:42 left and the Cavs trailing by 27. James was dressed and out of the locker room before reporters were let in. The Cavs are now 3-12 without James since the start of last season, including 0-2 this season.
8. “He gives us everything and he’s one of those guys, of very few, that really makes everyone on his team better and makes everybody play at a high level,” Love said. “We definitely missed him tonight.”
9. Kyrie Irving had 28 points and six assists and was the lone starter playing into the fourth quarter. Realizing the game was lost and the Cavs had another one Monday night, Lue subbed out his starters midway through the third quarter.
10. “Stars didn’t give the effort we wanted or needed, so we got them out and brought the other guys in,” Lue said. Curiously, Irving was the only starter to return. It seemed to be sending a message to Irving, something Lue didn’t directly deny. But Irving also said he asked back into the game.
11. Regardless, the Cavs were yet again torched by an opposing point guard. Friday it was Kyle Lowry’s career-high 43 points. This time it was John Wall’s 21 points and 13 assists through three quarters. The game was so out of hand by the fourth that Wall wasn’t needed.
12. The Cavs’ defense since the win over the Thunder has been terrible. Opponents are shooting better than 48 percent against them, tied for the fourth-worst mark in the league. Their defensive rating of 106.9 points per 100 possessions is in the lower half as well. The pick-and-roll defense has been suspect for a while and Sunday it was Wall attacking the Cavs in transition and in the half court.
13. “I’m not going to finger point on one thing (defensively) because about a week ago we still were winning games,” Irving said. “In the grand scheme of things we still feel like we’re a great defensive team and we just have to have that consistency going from game to game.”
14. This is why James is often left to feel as if he has to do it all himself. There are two other max players on this roster and a fourth near-max in Tristan Thompson, yet without James the Cavs routinely get beaten. He needs to sit more nights these last six weeks of the regular season and Lue indicated he will, even though the outcome often isn’t pretty.
15. While Lue downplayed the importance of Friday’s loss to the Raptors, it could ultimately cost them home-court advantage. They were five minutes away from essentially a five-game lead in the standings Friday night. Now the Raptors are just two games behind in the loss column and hold the tiebreaker.
16. More to say, but I have a flight to catch. Here is the game story and notes from today. Pacers tomorrow. Talk to you then from the Q.