Random dribbles on the Cleveland Cavaliers after yet another atrocious effort and 133-99 loss to the host Toronto Raptors on Thursday.
1. I don’t want to hear about the past three seasons. I don’t care that it’s only January. I don’t think LeBron James’ seven straight trips to The Finals guarantee that he’ll be back again.
2. Right now, today, the Cavaliers are a mess. That’s all that matters right now, today.
3. A team without LeBron should not be losing like the Cavs have been losing lately. The fact a team with LeBron is getting thumped night after night — well, that should be considered an issue.
4. It’s a coaching issue. It’s an effort issue. It’s a personnel issue.
5. The Cavs are the oldest and most-experienced team in the NBA. That should be good thing. But frankly, some of their guys are starting to look over-the-hill and out of sorts.
6. It’s beginning to be hard to believe J.R. Smith is still a starting-caliber shooting guard. That’s not a personal attack. It’s a fair basketball assessment based on numbers.
7. Smith has played a combined 52 minutes in the previous two games — and compiled a total of two points, two rebounds and one assist.
8. Also, in the last two games combined, Smith is 0-of-12 shooting and 0-of-8 on 3-pointers. And in case you were wondering, he’s not been good defensively, either.
9. Smith, of course, isn’t alone. But the fact he is still trusted by coach Tyronn Lue to get the job done is … well, perplexing.
10. Unless you’re an elite defender (Smith isn’t), the shooting guard position in today’s NBA is one that is counted on to produce points. But since the beginning of December, Smith has compiled just five double-figure outings. And he barely did in the past two of those, scoring 10 points each time.
11. Anyway, again, this is hardly all on Smith. Kevin Love went 2-of-8 shooting. Isaiah Thomas was a miserable 2-of-15, one game after finishing 3-of-11. So the Cavs received a whopping four points from their starting backcourt. And the offense isn’t nearly as embarrassing as the defense.
12. Like Smith, LeBron could be seen just standing and watching as the other team pounded the offensive glass. Love and Jae Crowder at least got in the way, though they didn’t really box out. When you’re not winning, you’re supposed to return to utilizing the fundamentals. Instead, the Cavs (25-16) seem to be getting lazier.
13. Lue is sticking with his guys, refusing to change the lineup or rotation. As one former NBA coach told me recently, “Some coaches make changes on the fly during the course of a game. Others determine their rotation for the game, or for an entire playoff series, and that is that. They won’t budge.”
14. Right or wrong, Lue fits the latter description more closely.
15. Is it panic time? Nah. It is frustration time, though. Is there anyone out there who actually thinks the Cavs should be this bad? I know. Some of you are beginning to wonder, and I don’t blame you.
16. But it’s time to stop saying and playing like “it’s only the regular season.” Believe it or not, the regular season does matter.
17. Of the previous 10 champions, eight owned the No. 1 seed in the conference. And over the last 20 years, 32 of the 40 teams in The Finals were the No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the conference.
18. There’s more. Twelve champions in the last 20 years entered the playoffs as the conference’s top seed. Four were second seeds, and four were third seeds.
19. Right now, the Cavs (25-16) are the third seed in the East, trailing the first-place Boston Celtics by 6.5 games — and leading the eighth-seeded Indiana Pacers by 5.o. So the Cavs are closer to eighth place than they are to first, if you want to be snarky about it.
20. LeBron to reporters on the state of things: “We’re so fragile. I don’t know where it kind of went wrong or what happened to switch back, but we’ve got try to pick it back up and find it.”
21. As the resident superstar, it’s up to James to lead the way in that department.
22. Keep in mind the Raptors were without injured starting point guard Kyle Lowry and suspended forward Serge Ibaka. So the Cavs were drilled by a team that half-expected to lose. Instead, the Raptors were led by second-year Fred VanVleet, who scored 22. He entered the game averaging about 6.0 points per game.
23. Don’t ask me, because I don’t get it, either.
24. James led the Cavs with 26. No one else had a night worth mentioning. Not sure why James played 32 minutes in this one, though. That’s especially true since the Cavs were getting run out of the gym and have another game Friday, at Indiana.
25. Through it all, Lue has left himself open to questioning by admitting he’s more concerned with April than now. That’s all well and good, but you still have to coach the team, prepare the team, and start using some lineups that might actually work. January or not, these games do matter.
26. As an interesting aside, the TV cameras caught James in a heated exchange with assistant coach Phil Handy during a timeout. Needless to say, it made it’s way to social media — where old friend Kyrie Irving actually gave it a “like.”
27. Finally, I wrote much more about the Cavs and the need for general manager Koby Altman to start contemplating the idea of improving the roster. The trade deadline is Feb. 8. You can read the column right here.