Random dribbles following the Cavaliers’ toughie of a 117-112 road loss to the Houston Rockets on Sunday:
1. The Cavs have been a little out of sorts in March. Nothing drastic. But they sure don’t want to be playing this way in a month.
2. Games like this make it pretty evident how much the Cavs miss Kevin Love. Besides Tristan Thompson, the Cavs don’t really have a consistent rebounder. LeBron James usually does a nice job, of course. But then who? The answer is Love, and he can’t return soon enough.
3. For instance, the Cavs (43-22) were out-rebounded by a 52-38 count vs. the Rockets. The Rockets are much-improved and tons of fun to watch behind coach Mike D’Antoni and a reborn James Harden (38 points, 11 assists). But in no universe should they be 14 rebounds better than the Cavs.
4. Rebounding is a huge part of defense. Last thing you want is to give the opponent another chance after you’ve made a stop. The Cavs allowed the Rockets to pull down 20 offensive rebounds — resulting in 16 extra shots.
5. Part of it may have been the fact the Cavs played the previous night, then had to travel from Orlando. They looked gassed in the second half. Especially James, who got sloppy with the ball. The Cavs built a 14-point lead in the first half. They then trailed by nine near the end of the game. That’s a 23-point swing.
6. So you can always chalk this up to a schedule loss against a good team. The odds were against the Cavs winning. They failed to beat the odds.
7. But it’s more than that. The Cavs have not played cohesive, smart basketball for most of the month. They are having a hard time integrating new point guard Deron Williams. For one, it’s hard to understand why LeBron feels the need to bring the ball up the floor — ever — when Williams is in the game.
8. Williams is not a shooting guard. The Cavs got him for his playmaking skills. But James is in the habit of handling the ball and starting the offense. It makes Williams not have a purpose when they’re on the floor together. Williams should be creating for LeBron– not vice-versa.
9. When LeBron was with Miami, his coach, Erik Spoelstra, instructed the Heat guards never to inbound the ball to LeBron. It was Spoelstra’s passive-aggressive way of not letting James unnecessarily dictate the offense.
10. Cavs coach Tyronn Lue certainly needn’t take that approach. But when Williams is on the floor, Williams should be handling the ball. That’s why the Cavs got him and they should let him do his job.
11. Clearly, LeBron is among the game’s great passers and a modern-day Larry Bird when it comes to creating from the forward position. This isn’t to say James should never handle the ball. But if he’s bringing the ball up the floor with Williams out there, the Cavs are playing 4-on-5.
12. James finished with 30 points, seven rebounds, five assists — and eight turnovers. Too often some of the Cavs get caught up trying to make a spectacular pass. A simple one will sometimes do.
13. Kyrie Irving looked whipped, but willed the ball in the basket for 28 points. Like James, he missed some shots he usually makes with the outcome in the balance.
14. Cavs forward Richard Jefferson went 6-of-6 shooting in the first half for 16 points … then didn’t attempt a single shot in the final two quarters. Strange night.
15. The Cavs need another big body and it sure sounds as if free agent center Larry Sanders is on the way. They are a worse team defensively with Channing Frye on the floor. He doesn’t really protect the basket or the perimeter.
16. If Sanders is indeed signed, Frye could be the odd man out of the playoff rotation — though the Cavs can always benefit from the threat of Frye’s 3-pointers. No matter, somebody on this team must defend the paint. Thompson, to his credit, is much better at it this season. But the Cavs clearly need more of it, and more rebounding.