Losses reveal Cavs’ missing ingredient

Kyrie Irving and the Cavaliers face the Raptors in the East semis.

In NBA terms, it’s called grinding it out. It means finding a way to win even when you’re not playing your best.

Defending is a great way to do it. So is chasing rebounds like they mean something. So is patiently passing the ball in search of the best possible shot.

The Cavaliers enter Thursday’s game at Chicago (8 p.m., TNT) not having done those things too well lately. Hence, they enter Thursday at Chicago with three losses in four tries.

As LeBron James indicated, that is not “Cavaliers basketball.”

As Kyrie Irving insisted, that is not how the Cavs won the championship last season — and it’s certainly not the way to go if they want to win it again.

So, what gives, Kyrie?

“It hasn’t been perfect, to say the least,” Irving told reporters Wednesday in Chicago. “There have definitely been some ups and downs, some disagreements. But as adults and professionals, we just have to figure it out.”

Now, this is the NBA and there are certain nights when you just know your team isn’t going to play well. Travel may be part of the reason. A natural letdown after a big game could be another.

Or maybe you’ve had a March like the Cavs, a month where a bunch of random road games get crunched together.

Remember, basketball players are people, too.

And some basketball players, like some people, are stronger and more determined than others.

That is what the Cavs need now. They need guys who will take command when the idea is grinding out a victory.

James is often that man. Irving has certainly played that role, too.

“We can’t rely on thinking that one championship is enough,” Irving told reporters. “It’s natural for human beings to get comfortable. But you want two, you want three, you want four. I want more, and I’m gonna go take it. My job as one of the leaders of the team is to bring my guys with me.”

Irving has proven capable. He hit the NBA’s biggest 3-pointer last season in Game 7 of the Cavs’ Finals win over Golden State.

But the Cavs will always need to be more than just Kyrie and LeBron. They have been before, and according to Irving, they should be again.

“That’s kind of the disappointing part,” he said. “We know we have the culture here. We know we have the guys. And we know when we’re not playing up to our level.”

Things can change quickly with this team, of course. Just when you count the Cavs out … they overcome a 3-1 deficit on basketball’s grandest stage.

“We know we’ve got play better,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue told reporters. “We know what it’s about, what it takes. We went through this the last couple of years. So guys know what we have to do, and we’re gonna do it.”

Recognizing the problem is often the first step.

Grinding out a win is often the next. Maybe the Cavs are finally ready to do both.

NOTES

Lue said resting players will be determined on a “game-by-game basis” to close out the regular season. The Cavs (47-26) don’t plan to rest anyone vs. the Bulls. … Kyle Korver remains out with a sore foot. Iman Shumpert (knee) is probable to return after missing two games. … The Bulls (35-39) are 1.5 games behind Indiana and Miami for the final playoff spot. … They’ve won all three regular-season meetings vs. the Cavs.

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