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Sixty-three pindowns after the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 127-113 loss against the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday night at Staples Center…
1. On the surface, this one very much had the look of an “uh-oh” situation by the time it ended. A second-straight loss in the the longest road trip of the season, one that dropped the Cavaliers to 16-17 away from Quicken Loans Arena.
2. However, the fact is, no matter what transpires for at least the next couple of weeks — save for a player suffering an injury — isn’t anywhere close to a gauge of where this team will be come playoff time in mid-April.
3. Cleveland played this one without four members of its rotation. Five-time All-Star Kevin Love (broken left hand), Rodney Hood (lower back strain), Tristan Thompson (right ankle) and rookie Cedi Osman (left hip) all did not play.
4. Love is two weeks from his projected eight-week timetable for returning after being hurt Jan. 30 in Detroit. Thompson was slated to miss “extended time” after spraining his ankle after stepping on the foot of a Denver player in a loss nine days ago. Osman is slated to miss two weeks because of strained left hip flexor. Hood is listed as day-to-day after departing after the first quarter Friday against the Clippers.
5. Yes, the loss dropped Cleveland to fourth in the Eastern Conference standings. With 16 games to play, the possibility of finishing anywhere from third to eighth in the East is very real.
6. Who could have imagined last summer that the Indiana Pacers, who traded Paul George to Oklahoma City instead of Cleveland, would have a better record than the Cavaliers at this point in the season?
7. That having been said, the fact is the team we are seeing trotted out right now by the Cavaliers is but a shell of the one we are likely to see when the playoffs tip off. A healthy Love, Hood, Osman and Thompson will make Cleveland a completely different team than the one that is almost making our eyes bleed while watching right now.
8. Seriously, if Ante Zizic, John Holland and London Perrantes are playing a combined 43 minutes in a game for the Cavs, any game, they aren’t likely to emerge victorious.
9. LeBron James, when asked postgame what his biggest area of concern was for the Cavaliers, was succinct. “Our injuries,” he said.
10. “You want to get the most from whoever is playing, but sometimes you can’t overcome this many injuries,” he continued. “We have pretty much five guys out of our top nine or top 10 of our rotation not playing because of injuries. It’s next man up, but sometimes you just fall short.”
— FOX Sports Ohio (@FOXSportsOH) March 12, 2018
11. James was asked if he finds any consolation in the fact that this is not the Cavaliers team the rest of the league will see in a month.
12. “Yeah. I’ll never accept a loss,” he said. “It’s not in my DNA.”
13. A well-known fact across the NBA landscape is the Los Angeles nightlife. Flying into the City of Angels after an impressive win at Denver on Tuesday night, the Cavaliers spent five consecutive days in LA. Perhaps it’s no coincidence Cleveland was curb stomped by both the Clippers and the Lakers. Just sayin’…
14. How bad was this one? When Isaiah Thomas — yes, that Isaiah Thomas, not the Isiah Thomas of Detroit Pistons fame — runs circles around you and scores 20 points, grabs five rebounds and hands out nine assists, you know you’re in trouble.
15. Thomas air-balled his first shot against his former teammates, a 3-pointer from the right wing, and was targeted throughout the first half on defense. However, to his credit, he somehow transformed himself into the guy who led the Eastern Conference in scoring last season while in Boston in the second half.
16. The guy Thomas pretty much ran circles around in the third quarter was 36-year-old Jose Calderon. Which isn’t really fair as Calderon actually more than did his part, scoring 14 points, on 4-of-5 shooting, in 31 minutes.
17. “I only played 15 games with the Cavs, so it wasn’t like it was a revenge game,” Thomas said. “I keep saying the world knows what I bring, so I don’t got to play so good just to show them what they gave away. It’s nothing like that. I have really close friends on that team, and those guys are great guys, they just made a business decision, and I’m trying to move on … for the most part.”
18. Thomas when asked if this was his best game as a Laker: “If given an opportunity, I can play like that every game, so it’s not a surprise. I’ve done that before. I was just out there making plays, my teammates were getting me open, Coach is putting me in position to be successful and I just took advantage of it.”
19. Lakers coach Luke Walton heaped praise on the 5-foot-9 Thomas. “He was great tonight. The thing about Isaiah that’s so good for our team is everything that we’re yelling at the players from the bench, he’s actually on the court telling them the same thing as far as getting them to the right spots.”
20. “It’s really nice having him out there are far as keeping us structured and organized,” Walton continued. “He always played with an edge. Just being the last pick in the draft and everything else he’s gone through in his career, I think that’s just how he naturally plays. That’s why he’s had such an unbelievable career so far.”
21. It appeared Thomas was staring down or talking trash to the Cavaliers’ bench after a made 3-pointer in the third quarter that forced a Cleveland timeout, but he said that was not the case as he was conversing with undefeated (supposedly) retired boxer Floyd Mayweather, who was seated next to the Cavaliers’ bench.
IT with a little extra stare for the Cavs bench? pic.twitter.com/LQlqh6D21G
— Lakers Outsiders (@LakersOutsiders) March 12, 2018
22. “Champ is one of my closest friends, me and him were going back and forth,” Thomas explained. “That’s one of my best friends. He’s just always talking mess.”
23. In truth, Thomas has no reason to look or talk down on the Cavs. During his time in Cleveland, the Cavaliers were minus-132 when he was on the court.
24. A bright spot for the Cavaliers was the play of the aforementioned Zizic. The rookie big man posted career highs in points (15), rebounds (7) and minutes (20).
25. As shorthanded as Cleveland is in pivot with Love and Thompson both sidelined, it’s time coach Tyronn Lue gives the lone piece (until whatever the Cavs opt to do with The Brooklyn Pick is known) remaining from the disastrous Kyrie Irving trade to get some more run.
26. Larry Nance Jr., who had 16 points and eight rebounds against his former team, is doing fine as Cleveland’s starting center, averaging 15.3 points and 12.0 rebounds in his four games as a starter. But he needs help.
27. Watching Jeff Green attempting to guard opposing fives when Nance is not on the floor is painful. Zizic, a willing screener who rolls hard to the hoop, deserves a chance to receive more time.
28. In the last four games, the 21-year-old Zizic has quietly averaged 7.5 points and 4.3 boards, but has done so playing only 13 minutes a game.
29. James led the Cavaliers with 24 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists but played only 31 minutes as Lue sat his starters with more than six minutes to play. He recorded his 39th double-double of the season in the loss.
30. For what it’s worth, in the 2,444 minutes LeBron has played this season, the Cavaliers have been outscored by 26 points. For the season, as a whole, Cleveland has now allowed four more points than it’s scored. When James took his first break of the night late in the first quarter until he returned a few minutes into the second Sunday night, Cleveland was plus-9.
31. While Nance’s 16-and-8 line was solid, the guy whom he was traded with — Jordan Clarkson — struggled mightily. He scored four points, on 1-of-8 shooting (0-of-3 from deep) and added four assists in 16 minutes. His minus-17 rating was the worst of any Cavaliers player.
32. “It was definitely something in the air I guess, you wanted to come in here and win those games,” Clarkson said of playing against his former teammates. “In those games, it’s either going to go really good or really bad. It’s just one of them nights.”
33. Less we forget Clarkson’s quote after practice on Friday: “No offense to the Lakers, but we are playing for something more here in Cleveland.” Hmmmm…
34. Lue said Clarkson, the NBA’s second-leading scorer off the bench this season behind only Lou Williams of the Clippers, may have been pressing while facing his former team.
35. “He could have been, playing against his old team,” Lue said. “He came out early and got a couple of good scores and then they went to blitzing him on the pick-and-roll. I just told him to keep his head in the game and score the basketball, be aggressive. They had a good game plan to try to blitz him and take him out of the game.”
36. Speaking of guys who struggled, say hello to J.R. Smith… again. The Cavaliers’ starting shooting guard, who one would think would be stepping up with so many guys out of the lineup, played 23 minutes, missed six of the seven shots he took, scoring three points, and the rest of his contributions amounted to two rebounds and a steal.
37. The Lakers are not going to make the playoffs this season, but they have made great strides as the season has progressed under Walton’s leadership. Since the calendar flipped from 2017 to 2018, the Lakers are 19-12. Conversely, the Cavs are 14-16.
38. “Since Luke took over, they’ve improved every single season I think,” James said. “And you just try to implement that ball movement, that body movement, that he got when he was in Golden State.”
39. James may indeed be the best player on the planet, but the best player on the floor was Julius Randle of the Lakers, who posted a career-high 36 points, to go with 14 boards and seven dimes. It was his 18th double-double of the season.
40. The list of Lakers to posted that stat line, or better, in a regular-season game? Shaquille O’Neal (twice), Kobe Bryant and Elgin Baylor. Not bad company.
🎥 Julius Randle details his career night in the win against the Cavs. pic.twitter.com/CesZ4EeOWw
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) March 12, 2018
41. “I just thought that Randle had a good game,” Lue said. “I thought he just out-toughed us. He bullied us the whole night, and we had no answer for him.”
42. Add Brook Lopez (22 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal, 2 blocks) and Kyle Kuzma (14 points, 10 boards, 2 assists) and the Lakers’ starting frontcourt outscored Cleveland’s, 72-47, and outrebounded them, 32-21.
43. “The rebounding hurts us. I think the physicality on the block,” Lue said. “Not having as many bigs, having to double team the post a lot and scramble around. But that’s what we have to do right now, so, no excuses.”
44. Offense has generally not been a problem for the Cavaliers. Entering the game Sunday night, Cleveland had an offensive rating of 111.7, third-best in the NBA behind only superpowers Golden State and Houston. However, 31 of its 88 shots against the Lakers were from deep, and it make only 12.
45. “We got to continue to play better and we got to be more aggressive offensively,” Lue said. “We can’t just settle for the 3 if their team is switching and closing out, we got time to put the ball on the floor, drive it and make another play. We can’t just settle for jump shots the whole game.”
It just wasn't the @cavs night at Staples Center.
Ty Lue shares his thoughts on the loss and what needs to be better moving forward. pic.twitter.com/prtHeqbL4f
— FOX Sports Ohio (@FOXSportsOH) March 12, 2018
46. Speaking of jump shots, Kyle Korver took one for the team. Playing on a bruised foot that had his availability in doubt leading up to the game, the 36-year-old answered the bell, posting 12 points, on 4-of-6 shooting (all 4 field goals being from 3), while adding four rebounds and a blocked shot in 28 minutes, second-most on the team, behind only the 31 played by James.
47. “It’s hard to gauge because we just have so many guys out,” Korver, who will turn 37 on Saturday, said. “We’re so low on big men right now. When we’re small, they’re just kind of switching everything on us and there’s not a lot of movement out there for us. That’s what makes basketball fun is when the ball is moving, bodies are moving and hopping.”
48. Korver said it is as it appears for the team. “I think we’re just missing some smiles out there on the court right now. It feels very serious. We’re just kind of slugging it out. It’ll help once we get some healthy bodies back. And there’s not a lot of time, for sure.”
49. Korver said it’s important for the Cavaliers who are holding down the fort until their injured teammates can return to stay strong, physically and mentally.
50. “I was talking with Bron, he sets a really great example for how to take care of yourself,” he said. “I think physically we’re OK. I think mentally, it’s easy to get tired right now. It’s been a grind of a year. We’ve got to find ways to stay fresh, you’ve got to find ways to fill your cup, we’re all different and we all have to find our own way to do that.”
51. The veteran sharpshooter knows the NBA is a bottom-line business, but that there is light at the end of the tunnel for the Cavaliers (38-28) and, no, it isn’t that of an onrushing train.
52. “I know, I know. It’s like black or white. There’s no in-between,” he said. “But in Iowa we’d say, ‘There might be a little drought right now, but when it rains it’s going to pour.’ We’ll hold onto that. Right now, it feels a little low and a little dry. Hopefully, it’ll turn soon and we’ll be in a good way once the playoffs start.”
53. Until then, though, fasten your seatbelts for it’s going to be a wild and wacky final month as the regular season drives toward the finish line. With a month to play:
54. Teams 3 through 8 in the East are separated by only 3.5 games.
55. Teams 4 through 10 in the West are only 2.5 games apart.
56. The two teams who share the sixth-best record — the Cavaliers and the Pelicans — are only 3.5 games better than the team with the 18th-best record — the Bucks.
57. Seven teams are only seven games apart from owning the league’s worst record.
58. As we here at Amico Hoops are partial toward, let’s bring a couple positives to the table. James provided the two best passes of the night.
LeBron makes the pass of the season and Isaiah Thomas is at the end of it, looking depleted. Poetic. pic.twitter.com/fdDka0kokf
— Jeff Eisenband (@JeffEisenband) March 12, 2018
59. Though there have been numerous reports of possible bad blood between LeBron and IT, that didn’t appear to be the case in pregame.
LeBron James and Isaiah Thomas reunited. pic.twitter.com/M2HwevV2fF
— Sporting News (@sportingnews) March 12, 2018
60. LeBron even took time to offer some dap to Thomas’ kids before the game.
— SLAM (@SLAMonline) March 12, 2018
61. They even had some light moments during the game.
ex-teammates LeBron James and Isaiah Thomas share a laugh as they go one-on-one 😂 pic.twitter.com/WxoVDzkcn1
— Def Pen Hoops (@DefPenHoops) March 12, 2018
62. The Cavaliers will look to even their road trip at 2-2 and their season road record at 17-17 on Tuesday night in Phoenix against the freefalling Suns. Phoenix owns the NBA’s second-worst record at 19-49, just half a game better than Memphis (18-48 and riding a skid of 17 games), has lost five straight and nine of its last 10.
63. The playoffs start in 33 days… they can’t get here soon enough.