CHICAGO: After the Cavaliers’ loss Monday in San Antonio, the weight of defending a championship, the frustration of a disappointing night and the responsibility of playing point guard cut straight to Kyrie Irving’s heart.
So Irving headed to his sanctuary, one that he said can sometimes “get jaded by other things that this life brings.”
While his teammates showered and dressed, Irving went back to the court at AT&T Center to get up shots. When he returned, he draped a towel over his head and spoke privately with LeBron James.
After practice Wednesday at Roosevelt University in Chicago, Irving wouldn’t share what he and James discussed. But Irving said the time alone on the court wasn’t just about the fact that he’d scored eight points, hit 4-of-13 field goals and had a plus-minus of minus-26, his lowest since April 2014.
In a season in which the Cavs have been racked by injuries and Irving and James have been forced to carry the load, Irving said he needs to do more.
“It just wasn’t about the shots, just more or less about the game and what I could’ve done to impact it,” Irving said. “And I didn’t do it. I had to face the music and I think we all had to do it. But more importantly, I had to look in the mirror and [I] just wasn’t doing enough. I need to demand more out of myself and do it at a high level.”
Going into Thursday night’s game against the Bulls at United Center, the Cavs have lost four of their last six. They are 6-9 in March. After leading the Eastern Conference all season, they stood a half game back of the Celtics going into Wednesday’s action. ESPN’s Marc Stein dropped the Cavs to seventh in his latest power rankings and league analysts have begun to question whether the defending champions will make it back to the NBA Finals.
Asked how this challenge compares to being down 3-1 to the Warriors in the 2016 Finals, Irving said, “It’s no comparison, man, because it’s so different. The emotion is different. Everyone has grown. Everyone has kind of gone their own way and now we’re coming to a head where we’ve got to figure it out.
“It’s natural for human beings to just get comfortable, just to have an excuse, just to rely on just having won a championship. But if you a m*****f*****, you want two, you want three, you want four, like you say you do. And I want more. I’m going to go take it. My job as one of the leaders on the team is to bring my guys with me.”
Adding to Irving’s frustration is that the Cavs’ core that ended Cleveland’s 52-year championship drought is still together.
“That’s the disappointing part,” he said. “Because we know we have the culture here. We know we have the guys. We know when we’re not playing up to our level. We just allow it to pass and pass and it turns out to kind of be a s*** show. It’s just a wake-up call.”
Continuing injuries have ruined the Cavs’ rhythm. New players have been added. Kyle Korver has missed eight games and will be out at least two more with an inflamed tendon in his left foot. Iman Shumpert has been sidelined for the past two with a sore right knee, but coach Tyronn Lue said Shumpert made it through the entire practice Wednesday and is expected to be available against the Bulls.
But with only nine regular-season games remaining, there is pressure to put it all together quickly.
“If we start listening to a lot of outside noise, then it could get even uglier,” Irving said of that pressure. “The greatest thing about it is you have a chance to make an impact that any given moment could change the whole framework of it. I think that’s what we’re trying to do.
“I know everyone’s engaged, and we want to win another championship. It may be a very different journey. It’s been a crazy, crazy season. But we’re going to face a lot bigger things than we’re facing now and we’ve got to understand that.”
Irving said the Cavs have to get back to “having fun with one another and being truthful with one another.” While that sounds like a chemistry issue, Irving is also motivated to help the Cavs replicate their play from a league-best 9-2 February.
“I have to do my best as a point guard to integrate J.R. [Smith] and [Kevin Love] and get our starting five back to having the continuity,” Irving said. “There’s definitely been some ups and downs and disagreements. But as adults and professionals we just have to figure it out. I think it starts with our practice habits and what we demand out of each other. Just holding each other accountable.”
Irving believes there is still time to overcome the adversity March brought.
“I think once you realize it’s really not as hard as we’re making it, you just take a step back, kind of get out of your emotions and stop thinking so critically,” Irving said. “Start thinking about what’s the next step in order to help the team or help yourself. I think that’s where we are now and we’re definitely taking steps in the right direction.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.