Latest posts by Don McCormack (see all)
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No, the sky is not falling and it’s not the end of the world, as we know it.
That is the message Isaiah Thomas of the Cleveland Cavaliers had after practice Sunday at Cleveland Clinic Courts in Independence.
With the Cavaliers (26-16) coming off an abysmal road trip, which included the two worst losses of the season (at Minnesota and Toronto), having lost four of their last five, seven of their last nine and with the defending champion Golden State Warriors (35-9) in town for a game Monday, sounds of alarm are sounding.
But not within the team, Thomas said.
“We’re in no way in panic mode. It’s only January,” Thomas said. “I mean, I know I’ve only played four games after being off seven months, so there’s no need to panic, but we got to be prideful.
“We got to take anything we do negative, anything we do that’s not good on the court, take that serious and look in the mirror and see what you can do to help this team win.”
Improving a sagging, swinging gate-like defense would be a start. Cleveland has dipped to 29th out of 30 NBA teams in defensive rating.
It’s not the like the Cleveland offense is exactly humming, either. Coach Tyronn Lue’s Cavaliers had scored 100 points or more in 26 consecutive games, but have failed to reach the century mark in six of their last nine contests.
“I think guys know that,” Thomas said. “They’ve been to three straight Finals, we’ve been to three straight Finals and we just got to figure things out.”
Thomas pointed out Cleveland came out of the gate at 5-7, then righted the ship, doing so to the point the Cavaliers reeled off a 13-game winning streak and prevailed in 18 of 19 games.
“At the beginning of the year, we didn’t play well and it was almost like, for everybody else, it was like the end of the season, it was the end of the world,” Thomas said. “Then we ran off 18 out of 19 and everybody loved us.
“Now, we’re back to how we started and we just got to get ourselves out this hole.”
Thomas, himself, has been on a bit of a rollercoaster. After returning from a seven-month layoff to rehabilitate a torn labrum in his right hip, the 5-foot-9 left-hander poured in 36 points in 40 minutes of play against Portland and Orlando, shooting at better than 50 percent in both games.
He said he was aware, though, a regression was coming.
“I knew it was going to be like this,” Thomas said. “I have no legs. So it’s going to take some time to get it back.
“Even when I played well those first two games I told Coach Lue it didn’t feel right. It was kinda fool’s gold.”
Thomas was prophetic. After those two performances energized his teammates and put a step in the Cavaliers’ collective step, it’s been a struggle.
Against the Timberwolves on Monday (a 127-99 loss), Thomas made just 3-of-11 from the floor, including 1-of-5 from 3, finishing with nine points.
He came back three nights later at Toronto (a 133-99 defeat) and posted just four points, misfiring on 13 of 15 shots he took, in the process.
Thomas remained on the practice floor Sunday in an effort to regain his shooting touch.
“The shots were going in, but none of my movements, none of the things I usually do felt normal,” Thomas said, discussing the difference between his first two games back on the floor and the last two. “It’s going to be like that for a while.
“I’m my biggest critic, I’m not a patient person. So it’s killing me. I’m used to stepping on the court and being special.”
Thomas said there is no magic potion, no fast-forward button toward returning to the height of his powers, which helped him lead the Eastern Conference in scoring a year ago in Boston (28.9 points per game), earning second-team All-NBA recognition in the process.
“So now I’ve got to work. I’ve got to work my way back and get my legs back and get my legs back to playing at a high level,” he said. “I just know it’s going to take time and I’ve got to be patient with myself and not too hard on myself. I’m going to keep working, that’s the only thing I can do and when my opportunity and my time is there, I’m going to hopefully try to take advantage of it.”
Thomas admitted it can be an arduous, sometimes-frustrating process. However, after waiting seven months to get back onto the floor, he’s accepted the challenge.
“That’s tough to do. I’m going to keep fightin’ through it, there’s no excuses,” he said. “I’m going to figure it out and once I do, there will be smooth sailin’.”