Rock Bottom gets lower with each game as the Cleveland Cavaliers, with their trio of superstars in LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, lose to the Toronto Raptors 110-93 at home, making it four consecutive losses and a new low point for a team that was highlighted as the best in the NBA when the season began.
Most talented? Maybe. Best? Not even close. Not with a 5-7 record, and with a defense that gives up so many easy points near the rim, which mostly comes from an offense that simply isn’t comfortable with each other. The ball hardly moves, especially late in the game, and players seem to freeze up whenever the situations gets difficult. James spoke about it after the game, focusing on the mental aspect, suggesting this team is soft, falling backwards every time they face adversity.
The Toronto Raptors withstood the initial charge, with the Cavaliers running up to an 18-point lead, and then settled in, making the most of 18 turnovers and an offense that doesn’t know what to do if LeBron James doesn’t have the ball. Toronto outscored the Cavaliers by 30 points in the final three quarters, led by Kyle Lowry with 23 points and DeMar DeRozan scoring 20. It wasn’t the most efficient of performances from the Raptors, shooting only 40% from the field, but getting to the line easily, and hitting 38-of-42 from the line.
Kevin Love actually led the Cavaliers in scoring with 23 points and 50% shooting from the field. James was quite helpful with 15 points and 10 assists, Kyrie Irving scored 21 points and went with six assists. But James sat out the final 6:20 of the game. The Cavaliers look nothing like a team that’s coming together. They’ve actually regressed over the last week and a half, which brings criticism to the man on the sidelines, David Blatt.
In the first quarter, the Cavaliers scored 34 points, hitting 63.6% of their shots and held Toronto to just 28.6%. They were outscored by 27 points in quarters two and three, hitting only 32.6% of their shots while allowing 52.4%. There’s nothing wrong with ups and downs during a game, but the Cavaliers, despite their star power, seem to be oblivious as to how to go through the motions and rebound from this kind of drop off. The moments things go wrong, all systems are in panic mode and being to fail without any option of repair.
The losses to two of the East’s best teams were bad, but now the Cavaliers have at least one day of rest to try and figure out where to go from here. Is this just a familiarity issue and feeling confident in each other, or is it something more systematic: The wrong offense, wrong positioning by players and mishandling the rotation by Blatt? Difficulties were bout to be part of the deal, James knew that. But teams with this much offensive talent shouldn’t do this badly. Instead, they’re under-performing at every level, from the first to the 12 player, and most of the time on both sides of the floor.
LeBron James didn’t come back to build something. The Cavaliers got swept up in the euphoria. If this was about being patient and building something great, Andrew Wiggins would have stayed along with Anthony Bennett. It wouldn’t have given the Cavaliers three All-Stars, but it would have set up something a bit nicer and more solid for the future. As of now, Kevin Love, if he’s unhappy at the end of this season, can go sign somewhere else. The same goes for LeBron James, with his opt out clause. That doesn’t sound very likely, and yet no one though James was going to leave a Heat team that went to the NBA finals four straight times.