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Random dribbles following the Cavaliers’ heartbreaker of a 132-130 road loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday.
1. Well, it’s probably not a good idea to spot the opponent 30 points on its home court. That’s especially the case when the opponent entered the night having won 12 straight. Nor should you do it when the opponent is young, hungry, talented and has something to prove.
2. But that’s what happened Friday night in Philly.
3. It’s true — the Cavs trailed by as many as 30 in the first half. They looked utterly exhausted after coming back from 17 down in the fourth quarter to beat Washington the previous night. Then the Cavs hopped on a plane and had to play for the No. 3 playoff seed in the Eastern Conference.
4. The Sixers care about the third seed, and they should. They have been through a lot the past few seasons of rebuilding. There have been major injuries to key players (Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons), top draft picks who bombed (Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor) and others who remain a mystery (Markelle Fultz).
5. So to finish third in the East is a major accomplishment for such a new team. Remember, everyone expected the Sixers to still be finding their way in this pro basketball world.
6. As for LeBron James and the Cavs? Meh. They don’t really care. Third seed, fourth seed … it doesn’t really matter. As James always says, “Just get me to the playoffs.”
7. If the Cavs do finish fourth, and it’s looking a lot like they will, they would likely be the first No. 4 seed in postseason history to be favored to reach the championship round. And they are indeed the favorites.
8. Except for a missed free throw at the end, James was absolutely incredible for a second straight night. In fact, he was even better than in his otherworldly performance against the Wizards. On Friday vs. Philly, James finished with 44 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists. How the man keeps doing this, I’ll never know.
9. James had a chance to tie it after getting fouled on a desperation of a 3-pointer with 1.9 seconds left (as you likely know by now). He buried the first free throw, but missed the second. With the Cavs down two, he had no choice but to purposely miss the third. Larry Nance Jr. somehow swooped in and got the tip. It looked good. But life can be unfair.
10. Then again, if you let yourself fall behind by 30 … well, you can’t expect the game to offer you a bunch of favors. Or something like that.
11. I know it was for the third seed. I know Cavs fans are worried whether coach Tyronn Lue is the man for the job (more on that in a minute). I know it was a game the Cavs could have and maybe should have won. But put all that aside, and try to appreciate the fact this was just a great basketball game with lots of drama (the good kind) and outstanding performances.
12. LeBron on the large first-half deficit: “You get down 30 in the postseason, that can lose you a series.”
13. Amen to that.
14. Of course, you can’t really ever get too excited about what happens in the NBA in April. The Cavs were bad at the end of last season, and weren’t great in the first two rounds of the postseason. But they went on a 10-0 tear to start the playoffs anyway.
15. It all goes back to a line former NBA coach and ex-Boston Celtics great Kevin McHale uttered about teams that played exceptionally well during the regular season: “All that matters is that you get it done in May.”
16. Simple, but very true. If the Cavs do more with the fourth seed than the Sixers do with the third, no one will remember Friday’s game.
17. It didn’t help that the Cavs were again without a point guard. George Hill (ankle) and Jose Calderon (hamstring) remained out. Also, shooting guard Rodney Hood left early with a sore Achilles, though the team emphasized it was strictly precautionary.
18. Hood and Calderon both could probably play Monday at New York, but don’t be surprised if they’re held out, a team source said. Hood, Calderon and Hill should all be ready for Game 1 of the playoffs, the source added. The playoffs start a week from Saturday, though the Cavs could open Sunday.
19. It’s hard to believe it took me 700 words to get to Jeff Green, because this was his best all-around game of the season. In another world (read: Not LeBron’s), Green would have been in the headline. He again started at forward and finish with 33 points on 10-of-12 shooting. That included a huge 3-pointer near the end. Fantastic performance.
20. I sure would like to see more minutes for Nance Jr., but it’s hard to make a case for those minutes coming at the expense of Green or Kevin Love (17 points, nine rebounds).
21. Nance played just seven minutes, Tristan Thompson just six. Thompson hasn’t fared well this season, so his lack of playing time makes sense. But not using an athletic and energetic big man such as Nance is inexcusable.
22. Like many of the fans, I’m worried about the Cavs under Lue. After winning nine of 10 with acting Larry Drew in charge, the Cavs are exhibiting the same issues under Lue. Some of those issues are exclusive to Lue. Suddenly, they’re only playing great in spurts and the defense has gone down the tubes.
23. Actually, Lue still called most of the shots when he was away. But he didn’t manage the game, the timeouts or the substitution patterns. And while he’s not the huge hindrance some fans are making him out to be, he hasn’t gotten the team to respond all that well. Even with the injuries, the Cavs just seemed more cohesive and comfortable under Drew.
24. Could that be a coincidence? Yes, absolutely. But does it also make you wonder about Lue? Yes, and it should.
25. Sixers rookie Ben Simmons was marvelous with 27 points, 15 rebounds and 13 assists. He’s not as athletic as LeBron, but he is very much like him in terms of his size, unselfishness and complete package of skills.
26. Thanks to Simmons and Embiid (when healthy), the Sixers are way ahead of schedule. I think they need to experience the playoffs’ early rounds before getting to play for a title. In other words, it ain’t happening for the Sixers this season. But assuming LeBron returns, the Cavs and some of the other had better be nervous about this Philly team moving forward.
27. Of course, let’s not forget Sixers shooting guard and renowned Cavs killer J.J. Redick, who torched the nets (and the Cavs) with 28 points.
28. Meanwhile, Cedi Osman did a nice job in his 33 minutes, though he couldn’t hit a shot (2-of-11 from field, 1-of-8 on threes). He missed a few WIDE-OPEN threes at the end that proved to be big. But he brings defense and energy, and when he knocks down shots, you’re in trouble. Bottom line is the Cavs’ rookie swingman has turned out to be a steal.
29. The Cavs (49-31) play at New York on Monday, then host the Knicks in the regular-season finale Wednesday. The Sixers (49-30) are a half-game ahead of the Cavs. They host Dallas on Sunday afternoon, visit Atlanta on Tuesday, then finish at home Wednesday vs. Milwaukee.
30. The Sixers have won 13 straight. I give them a major edge in each of their final three games. Imagine entering the playoffs on a 16-game winning streak. So I believe the Cavs will finish with the fourth seed after losing Friday. I also believe it won’t matter.