Will Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue alter the lineup after Monday’s 127-99 debacle of a defeat to the host Minnesota Timberwolves?
“No,” Lue firmly told reporters, and that was that.
At some point, perhaps, Lue will want to reconsider. The Cavs have lost five of seven and no loss was uglier than the one to the rising Timberwolves.
Usually, defense has been the issue for these Cavs (26-14). When they aren’t guarding the perimeter it’s only because they’re giving up baskets at the rim.
On Monday, though, it wasn’t just the defense. The Cavs didn’t box out, shoot, pass or dribble very well, either. But hey, they sure looked good in pregame warmups.
Then the buzzer sounded to signify the start of the game, and next thing you know, the Cavs are down 20-4.
Next thing you know after that, the Cavs are down by 41.
How does all of this happen?
“I don’t know,” Lue said. “It happens to a lot of teams three or four times a season, not just us.”
Actually, it seems to happen to the Cavaliers a lot more than most really good teams — or at least to teams that have made three straight appearances in The Finals.
On nights like this, the Cavs look old, battered, out of sync and not capable of winning a title. And when you have LeBron James, winning a title is what every season is supposed to be about.
Of course, this was a new low for the usually sky-high James. He took eight measly shots and finished with 10 measly points. On the bright side (if there is one), at least he got to rest by playing 27 measly (for LeBron) minutes.
LeBron also finished with a plus-minus rating of minus-39, meaning the Cavs were outscored by 39 points when he was on the floor. Early reports say that’s the worst of his career.
“I don’t care about no damn plus-minus,” James said.
Of course, even at his worst, James was better than most. After all, he was the only starter to reach double-figures in scoring.
Isaiah Thomas got his second start and played in his third game, and it was his worst one to date. He finished with nine points on 3-of-11 shooting — and then lucked out by getting ejected with 6:47 left in the third quarter. It happened after Thomas was whistled for a Flagrant-2 foul for nearly removing the face of Timberwolves swingman Andrew Wiggins.
The foul looked like an accident and Thomas apologized. But he got the old heave-ho anyway.
“I don’t think he should’ve gotten thrown out,” Lue said. “But, whatever.”
Thomas was not alone.
Kevin Love went 1-of-7 for three points in his return to the city that made him famous. J.R. Smith one-upped (or is it one-downed?) Love by finishing 0-of-7 for two points. Jae Crowder scored the Cavs’ first four points and none after that, and it’s really not worth discussing any more.
“We just want to get better,” he said, still refusing to look reporters in the eye. “We just want to get better.”
After games like this, it may not be a bad idea for LeBron to write that 100 times on a chalkboard, Bart Simpson-style.
As for the Timberwolves (26-16), they are an entirely new team with the likes of swingman Jimmy Butler and another year of coach Tom Thibodeau.
They will defend you and fight you and squeeze your will to be on the same floor. By halftime, the Cavs were done, as the Wolves controlled the entire tempo, pace and space.
Old friend Wiggins — the former No. 1 overall pick who always saves his best for the team that drafted him — finished with 25 points. Butler added 21, and Karl-Anthony Towns had 19 with 12 rebounds.
Meanwhile, it doesn’t get any easier for the Cavs, who next pay a visit to the talented Toronto Raptors on Thursday.