At some point, the Cavaliers have to start defending like a championship ball club again.
They say they know that — but they sure don’t seem to be in any hurry.
The latest example came Thursday in Auburn Hills, Mich., where the Cavs dropped a 106-101 decision to the hungrier Pistons.
As far as losses go, this one wasn’t horrible. The Cavs (42-21) have mostly had their way with the Pistons, and they were on the road. Detroit is far from a terrible team.
But the Cavs played well enough to win. They have more stars. They have more depth. But as has been the story too often lately, they couldn’t make the big stop.
Or more accurately, they didn’t seem interested enough to get more than one maybe every other possession.
So make it three straight losses, tying their season-high. That’s no way for championship teams to behave.
The Cavs should put these games away when they have the chance. They went on a 22-5 run to close the third quarter. They led by seven entering the fourth.
Then they just sort of stood around and waited for the Pistons to collapse.
LeBron James (29 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists) was brilliant. Kyrie Irving (27 points) wasn’t half-bad.
The game also marked the return of J.R. Smith — out since late December with a broken thumb. Smith was rusty and it showed, as he went 1-of-9 shooting.
Despite the overall play of James and Irving, the Cavs just aren’t scoring enough to not defend well.
They may be suffering a bit from the March blahs. That’s somewhat understandable, but not exactly excusable.
They don’t want to slip into bad habits, then carry them over into the postseason. They don’t want to forget how to win on the road. They don’t want to defend only when it suits them — because sometimes when it suits them, it’s much too late.
So far this month, the Cavs are playing like they did in January. They’re showing only partial interest, trying to turn it on when they fall behind, and failing to step on the gas when they take a lead.
They have more talent than most everyone else, but they’re learning that just talent doesn’t always translate to great things. You have to go out there and take care of stuff, one possession at a time.
Don’t look to the officials for help, don’t try to go one-on-one, and for heavens sake, don’t let your man drive past you then act like it’s someone else’s problem.
Instead, if LeBron and his pals want victory, they need to go out there and take it. It’s good that they expect to win. But the fact they are everyone else’s championship game still seems lost on them.
This is hardly time to panic — or even believe the Cavs will finish with something other than the first seed in the East.
They are still the team everyone else is chasing in this conference, and even at their worst, it’s likely to stay that way.
And yes, we do need to show them a little grace. For one, they remain without Kevin Love (knee), and on this night, Kyle Korver (foot).’
Also, Coach Tyronn Lue has said this will be a time for experimentation, and sometimes, that can make things seem clunky.
But again, the recent struggles aren’t as much about a lack of ability as they are a lack of determination.
I could bore you with numbers that support the claim they aren’t defending as well. Let’s not bother. A simple eye test will do the trick.
As a unit, the Cavs aren’t making the key plays, coming up with the key stands, or looking overly enthused nearly enough. The evidence is in the results, and lately, the Cavs haven’t been getting good ones.
What matters most is the postseason. We all know that. It’s always been that way with this team. Still, the Cavs need to make certain they start getting in the habit of doing the little things well.
That’s just what championships clubs aim to do at this time of year.