When it comes to these Cleveland Cavaliers, it might be best to just leave it alone and not try to figure it out.
Just accept that it’s a bad time of the season, a time when they can’t defend, a time when things somehow turn out wrong even when they feel so right.
It happened again Friday night at Indiana, when the Cavs built an impressive 34-12 at the end of the first quarter — only to have it turn into a 97-95 loss.
So make it three straight defeats and eight of 11 overall.
Suddenly, a team that was once steamrolling back to the top of the East is looking like an also-ran.
Can’t figure out how this is happening to a team with LeBron James, Kevin Love and others? Not to worry. The Cavs (26-16) can’t seem to figure it out, either.
Granted, this one came without Isaiah Thomas (rest) and Dwyane Wade (ditto) — but each played in the prior two games and the Cavs lost those by a combined 62 points. So it’s hard to tell how much of an impact they would’ve actually made.
This is all fairly humbling news for a team with championship aspirations. (Or so they say.)
Still, coach Tyronn Lue managed to find a positive spin on an otherwise cold, dreary evening. And that was just the temperature inside the Cavs’ postgame locker room.
“It was a great effort,” Lue told reporters. “With D-Wade out and IT out. Guys may have been a little tired, but I thought we fought and played with the right purpose, defensively especially. We’ve just got to continue to build off that.”
It’s true that the Cavs finally have something off which to build, but that would feel like a better battle plan if this were a young team fighting for a playoff spot.
Instead, the Cavs are the league’s oldest team, and from the looks of things, clinging to a playoff spot.
Lue is right, though. They did at least show a pulse, something that’s become a once-in-a-while feat these days.
James compiled 27 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists. Kevin Love went for 20 points and 11 boards.
And with just less than four minutes left in the game, the Cavs held a six-point lead. It’s not what you would call progress during their 13-game winning streak, but today, it shall pass as exactly that.
Of course, that advantage quickly went kaput — as the Cavs failed to score a single point in the final 3:57. So much for progress. So much for stealing one on the road.
And as brilliant as James was overall, he fell way short at the end.
His final three possessions went like this:
- 1. Dribble ball up court, jack up shot. Miss.
- 2. Dribble ball up court, jack up shot. Miss.
- 3. Drive to basket, step on the out-of-bounds line underneath basket. Turnover.
Actually, James did have one final chance after all that. It came with 1.4 seconds remaining and the Pacers leading by two. The Cavs didn’t have any timeouts, so Love whipped the ball over his head from under Indiana’s basket. James rose up and made the catch, turned to shoot a 3-pointer, and for a split second, it looked like it had a chance.
But off the rim it bounced and the down again went the Cavs.
Those final moments aside, the Cavs lost this one in the third quarter. The Pacers (22-20) exploded out of the locker room at halftime, going on an 11-0 run and hitting five 3-pointers in 12 dizzying minutes.
Meanwhile, the Cavs slogged their way to 6-of-21 shooting.
It was as if the Cavs were content that they finally had a lead, and on this particular trip, that was good enough.
“We didn’t push, we didn’t attack,” Lue said. “It could’ve been a little tired or fatigue, I’m not sure. But we really didn’t attack in that third quarter, we were just walking around.”
That has been a problem with this team lately, and Lue is right. It’s often hard to decipher if it’s effort or the result of old basketball age and tired legs.
Either way, the Cavs may want to take the next two days and find a solution. After all, the defending champion Golden State Warriors come to town Monday, and not surprisingly, they’re playing like champions should — even if it is only January.
On the bright side, the Cavs received strong efforts from Jeff Green (13 points) and rookie Cedi Osman (8 points, tons of hustle) off the bench. And for a brief moment, even J.R. Smith (9 points) looked inspired with some aggressive, locked-in play for most of the first half and portions of the third quarter.
Still, Smith only attempted three shots after halftime, and it’s easy to wonder if the 32-year old shooting guard is simply running out of gas.
But go ahead and wonder and guess and theorize all you want. It may not matter.
Right now, these Cavs may simply be beyond figuring out.