In what is becoming a regularly scheduled program on Ball Don’t Lie, we’re here with the latest episode of “What’s wrong with the Cleveland Cavaliers?” (Spoiler alert: LeBron James will fix this?)
Previously on …
• Episode 1: Even LeBron’s team has to try
• Episode 2: The Cavaliers are “getting boned early” and literally not even finishing games
• Episode 3: The Cavaliers held a team meeting before their problems become a concern
• Episode 4: Dwyane Wade: ‘Ain’t nobody afraid’ of the slow-starting, defenseless Cavs
Opening credits: Kevin Love rips his jersey out of frustration, shortly before feeling faint, asking out of the game, undergoing tests at the Cleveland Clinic and receiving IV fluids for an unidentified illness.
We knew Kevin Love was a WWE fan, but he didn't have to Hulk Hogan his Nike jersey pic.twitter.com/edoUoAOtQj
— Dime on UPROXX (@DimeUPROXX) November 5, 2017
Zoom in on Sunday’s first quarter, when a one-win Atlanta Hawks team that started Luke Babbitt is handing Cleveland’s starters a hard L. Love lazily sags underneath a screen by rookie John Collins, and a roving LeBron James can’t close out on Kent Bazemore in time for a wide-open 3-pointer that puts the Hawks up 25-11 and forces coach Tyronn Lue into his second timeout seven minutes into the game.
Enter Jeff Green, Dwyane Wade and, eventually, Kyle Korver and Cedi Osman, all of whom help cut the deficit to nine by quarter’s end, but not before Atlanta dropped a season-high 37 points in the quarter.
“We suck right now,” Cavaliers forward Channing Frye told reporters after the game.
Asked about the team’s first-quarter struggles, Frye quipped, “Usually I don’t get in until the second half, so y’all gotta talk to one of them. I mean, to be honest, OK, we’ve gotta play harder. We’ve gotta play harder and be more attentive to details, and we just have to have a better sense of urgency.”
Back to Sunday’s third quarter. The Hawks stretch a five-point lead in the early going to double digits three minutes into the second half, forcing another Lue timeout and more subs. Frye made his first appearance, and Wade soon followed off the bench. The Cavs allowed another 37 points in the third.
“I don’t know how many record 30-point quarters that is,” said Frye, “but it’s a lot.”
Cleveland eventually cuts the lead to two in the final minute, thanks to its bench outscoring Atlanta’s reserves by a 64-26 margin (Wade and Korver combine for 48 points), but Frye misses a potential game-winner with three seconds to play in a 117-115 loss. The Cavs drop to 4-6, losers of five of their last six, including games against the Brooklyn Nets, New Orleans Pelicans, New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers. Their defense falls to a league-low level (111.7 points allowed per 100 possessions).
Cut to the locker room:
“It’s no secret we’re starting games off awful, terrible,” said Wade, via Cleveland.com. “And they got it going early and the effort or the focus just wasn’t there to start off and you try to battle back, you waste a lot of energy trying to come back from 16-18 down and it’s tough nightly to do this.”
“It’s no secret in this locker room, but our first unit, we’ve got to start off better. I want one time for the first unit to get on the second unit because we blew a lead. I’m waiting for that day to happen. But we’ve definitely got to start off better, man.”
Wait, there’s more from Wade, via ESPN.com:
“This goes back to we can’t get behind the eight ball too much. We’re getting behind 10-plus, and I told the guys, ‘Every time I’ve came in the game besides one game, it’s been a 10-plus hole that we’re trying to dig out of.’ We’re confident in our second unit, but we don’t want all that. Not every time.”
And some from Korver, via The Athletic, just for good measure:
“We definitely have had slow starts where we just haven’t brought the juice that we need. I think we’re all pretty tired of it.”
Cleveland’s starters now rank 29th in first-quarter net rating, having been outscored by 29.7 points per 100 possessions in opening frames, squarely between the starting units for the Sacramento Kings and Dallas Mavericks, who boast a combined 2-18 record three weeks into the season. Something’s wrong.
And … scene.
This is the part of every episode where we remind you the Cavaliers still feature LeBron James, who scored 57 freaking points in a win over the Washington Wizards on Friday, after John Wall and Bradley Beal reiterated their belief that they are Cleveland’s biggest threat in the East and the Cavs willfully avoided them in the playoff seedings last season. LeBron’s team is 3-0 against the Wizards, Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks — the only teams they’ve played that actually matter in the conference.
That’s just the sort of Easter egg we need to remind us that the Cavs might be just fine when properly motivated, even though their defense is atrocious and there’s some simmering bitterness between the bench and the starters. We also have to remind ourselves that James cannot be expected to go off for 57 points on a regular basis, just to eke out wins in which they allowed 122 points. So, here we are.
And here Lue is reminding us, via Cleveland.com, that this roster is not the one that flipped the switch from a miserable defensive stretch at the end of last season to cruising through the East playoffs. “It’s not the same team we’ve had over the last three years,” the Cavs coach said at Monday’s practice. “We have a lot of new faces, a lot of new pieces, a lot of guys out, so we can’t have that approach.”
Closing credits roll over Lue saying his team has been an embarrassment through the first 10 games:
“I think guys are embarrassed and should be embarrassed of how we’re getting beat. Teams that we’re playing, having guys out, key guys out and still not being able to win. We all have to continue to keep searching and continue to keep fighting and continue to play hard.”
This episode of “What’s wrong with the Cavs?” featured not-so-special guest appearances by starters Jae Crowder, J.R. Smith and Derrick Rose, who combined for 21 points on 23 shots and a minus-27 rating. Love was not harmed in the filming of this episode. He returned healthy to practice on Monday.
Scenes from the next: Cleveland faces the Bucks again on Tuesday in a high-stakes battle between MVP favorites LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo that could reveal the Cavaliers’ true identity.
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