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Numbers preview: Cavs-Hawks

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Last season, the Atlanta Hawks won 60 games and had home-court advantage in the conference finals … and got swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers.

This season, the Hawks won just 48 games. Expectations are lower and they’ll be in Cleveland to start the conference semifinals. But the Hawks may be better prepared to make things difficult for the Cavs this time around.

They’re certainly healthier than they were a year ago, when Thabo Sefolosha was out with a broken leg, Paul Millsap was dealing with a shoulder injury, and Kyle Korver was lost to an ankle injury in Game 2. The Hawks are also better defensively than they were last season.

Atlanta was the league’s best defensive team from Christmas to the end of the regular season. In the first round of the playoffs, they held the Boston Celtics to 12.6 points per 100 possessions under their regular-season mark. Their defense has been strong in transition and at protecting the paint, two huge keys to slowing down LeBron James and the Cavs.

But they weren’t able to do that enough in the regular season, when James averaged 27.3 points on 58 percent shooting as the Cavs swept the season series, 3-0. That’s seven straight wins against Atlanta for the Cavs, who are also healthier and better defensively than they were a year ago.

The Cavs are trying to get back to The Finals with their “Big 3” intact this time. Before they can play for that opportunity, they have to get through the Hawks, which could be a much tougher proposition than it was last year.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for Cavs-Hawks, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Cleveland Cavaliers (57-25)

First round: Beat Detroit in four games.
Pace: 88.9 (15)
OffRtg: 115.8 (2)
DefRtg: 107.4 (12)
NetRtg: +8.4 (4)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Atlanta: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
First round: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

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Cavs playoff notes:

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Atlanta Hawks (48-34)

First round: Beat Boston in six games.
Pace: 101.1 (3)
OffRtg: 97.7 (13)
DefRtg: 91.3 (3)
NetRtg: +6.3 (5)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Cleveland: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
First round: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

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20160429_atl_defense

Hawks playoff notes:

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The matchup

Season series: Cavs won 3-0 (2-0 in Cleveland).
Nov. 21 – Cavs 109, Hawks 97
Apr. 1 – Cavs 110, Hawks 108 (OT)
Apr. 11 – Cavs 109, Hawks 94

Pace: 99.8
CLE OffRtg: 106.9 (2nd vs. ATL)
ATL OffRtg: 95.5 (21st vs. CLE)

Matchup notes:

Do the Cavs have any worries in the East?

Watching these playoffs, and concentrating their attention for now on the Eastern Conference, you know the Cleveland Cavaliers are somewhere literally sitting pretty right now.

They’re sitting because, after sweeping aside the Detroit Pistons, there’s nothing else to do but wait.

And they’re pretty because most if not all of their internal worries of the past are gone, and meanwhile, their competition in the East has never looked more beatable.

While it’s true that anything and everything is possible in the playoffs, the notion that the East title is Cleveland’s to lose looks stronger than ever. When you combine the good health and good vibes of the Cavs with the flaws of the remaining field, it screams Cleveland dominance. Wouldn’t you be shocked if LeBron James doesn’t make a sixth straight trip to the NBA Finals?

In a sense, the Cavaliers deserved a break. Come again, you say? Remember last year: Kevin Love‘s shoulder was ripped apart on a cheap shot by Kelly Olynyk in the first round. And Kyrie Irving was injured most of the East finals, then was gone for good after Game 1 of The Finals (knee). LeBron carried the Cavs anyway and took two games from the Golden State Warriors, but the health gods owed Cleveland a full compliment of bodies and, in particular, two All-Stars (Love and Kyrie). Hopefully we’ll get to see how good the Cavs are with LeBron, Love and Kyrie on the floor and clicking. And judging by what happened in the last month of the season and the first round, those three are finally playing in harmony.

As for the competition in the East?

Atlanta Hawks: Entering Thursday’s Game 6 (8 p.m. ET, TNT), they hadn’t won in Boston in 10 previous playoff games. So there’s a chance the Hawks could be extended to seven games. After winning 60 games last season, the Hawks were then swept by the Cavs without Love and Kyrie in the East finals. What gives anyone the idea things will be different in the semifinals this year? Paul Millsap is having a beastly series against Boston, but he was torched by LeBron last season. Meanwhile, if Jeff Teague has his hands full with Isaiah Thomas, Kyrie is a step up from that.

Toronto Raptors: If not for a few breaks their way in Game 5, the Raptors would be down 3-2 instead of up 3-2 on the Indiana Pacers. That’s not what you’d expect from the No. 2 team in the East. Kyle Lowry bombed in the 2015 playoffs and this time has upgraded to inconsistent. Speaking of that, the Raptors signed DeMarre Carroll to major dollars, hoping he’d be their defensive rock. The first impressions aren’t very kind — injuries didn’t help — and he’s the guy who’ll be assigned to LeBron.

Indiana Pacers: Paul George is averaging 28.8 points, six rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1.8 steals per game in the postseason. You have to love Paul George. You don’t have to love the Pacers.

Miami Heat: What a weird situation — and we’re not talking about Dwyane Wade on that last drive in Wednesday’s Game 5 and whether or not he got fouled. We mean Chris Bosh. He hasn’t spoken in public since All-Star weekend and hasn’t been officially ruled in or out of the playoffs. He and the Heat are involved in some sort of stand-off regarding his status — he wants to play but there’s a medical issue — and without him, Miami may not beat Charlotte.

Charlotte Hornets: This is a cool story, how a team that hadn’t won a playoff game since 2002 has won one, then two, then three, and now finds itself in position to win its first playoff series since 2002. Good for Steve Clifford, Kemba Walker and especially Michael Jordan. But they’d get swept by the Cavs.

Boston Celtics: Brad Stevens can coach, and Isaiah Thomas can play. But a coach can’t take a team deep into the playoffs, and the only way a 5-foot-9 player can carry a team far is if he’s Allen Iverson-like. Nice showing by the Celtics, though. Their big moment will comenot next week, but next month at the Draft Lottery show; they hold Brooklyn’s pick.

 

Morning Shootaround — April 18




VIDEO: Highlights from Sunday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Raptors not giving into negativity | Beverley fine with playing the villain | Portland’s Stotts ready to do away with hack-a-strategy | The graduation of Dion Waiters

No. 1: Raptors not giving into the negativity — They know what it looks like, kicking off the postseason for the third straight time with a loss. It would be easy for the Toronto Raptors to give into the narrative, to get lost in the social media swirl surrounding them after their Game 1 loss to the Indiana Pacers. But they’re not going there. Heading into Game 2 tonight (7 p.m. ET, NBA TV) the Raptors still believe it’s “their turn,” as Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun explains:

On his 59th birthday, Dwane Casey quoted Nas, saying sleep is the cousin of death. But the words of another rap legend, Tupac Shakur, sum up how the Raptors are feeling after another Game 1 meltdown — Me against the world.

On the heels of a third dreadful opening game effort in a row and a seventh-straight playoff defeat overall, it would be natural for the Raptors to feel like the walls are closing in around them, that the bandwagon is losing members at a rapid rate, that even the staunchest supporters are wondering whether another all too familiar let-down is on the verge of being delivered.

The players know what the vibe is, what was being said after the wobbly opener and chose to ignore it.

“I definitely didn’t go on social media because I know they were probably talking a lot of trash,” Kyle Lowry said with smile while up at the podium on a sunny Sunday afternoon in downtown Toronto.

Lowry and his teammates are looking at the bright side, honing in on the fact that this series is nowhere close to over, no matter what is being said about the underachieving group.

“I’m not shying away from it. It’s just at that point where it’s like, ‘all right, whatever.’ You know what? I know what everybody’s going to say: ‘Here we go again.’ I read everybody (including the media), there you go right there: That’s what they said,” Lowry said

Lowry insists the uproar and negativity on social media isn’t bothering him.

“No. That’s what it’s for. It’s for people to say their opinions. It’s for people to have an opinion. And that’s the world we live in. So I appreciate it, I love it, I mean I have my own opinion, I always comment on Twitter, I watch games, I say what I want to say. So that’s what it’s for. It’s for people to have a personality and have a voice. And you know, it’s part of the world. And for us, for me, I really just didn’t want to read it.”

Fellow all-star DeMar DeRozan loves the fanbase and having the entire country of Canada as potential backers, but wants the focus in the room to be on the brotherhood between the players and the staff alone.

“I don’t think we have (panicked) this time around,” DeRozan said.

“I think the outside people have. I’ve just been telling our guys, it’s all about us. It’s the guys in this jersey, the coaches, it’s one game. We understand what we have to do. We played terrible and still had a chance. We gave up 19, 20 turnovers, missed 12 free throws, we still had a chance. It’s a game. We’ve got another opportunity on our home floor to even it out. It wasn’t like we were going to go out there and sweep ’em. You know, that’s a tough team over there. Now it’s our turn to bounce back Monday.”

Head coach Dwane Casey said he didn’t tell his players to get off the likes of Twitter and Instragram, but is pretty sure ignoring the noise is a wise call.

“I just said you find out who your friends are, you’re going to find out real quick who your friends are, who’s calling for tickets and that type of thing when you’re backs are against the wall,” Casey said.

“And that’s good, you find out who’s pulling for you, who believes in you and who has your back. What I said is that group in that room is the ones that really have your back and the ones you should trust on the court. I did say that but I don’t know enough about social media to say anything about that.”

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Playoff expectations for Cavaliers: Score style points or just win?

VIDEO: Kevin Love on getting ready for playoffs.

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio – More than any of the other 15 teams in the first round of the NBA’s postseason tournament, the Cleveland Cavaliers will be watched closely not just for whether they win or lose each game but for how they happen to do it.

Style points – more specifically, judgments of how LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving mesh their games and share the load – likely will be assessed, loaded with all sorts of portent for the presumed rounds to come.

At a certain level, it’s understandable. Cleveland’s “Big 3” has ebbed and flowed in its performances over two seasons together, leaving unanswered questions about whether one basketball or one system is enough to serve James’, Love’s and Irving’s individual talents. Also, the blueprint turned black-and-blueprint last spring when both Love (shoulder injury in Game 4 of the opening round) and Irving (knee in Game 1 of the Finals) got hurt, leaving the plan to go largely untested.

So with the alleged inherent mismatch of their No. 1 vs. No. 8 clash with underdog Detroit and status as the East’s favorites overall, the Cavaliers might find themselves getting poked and prodded, their pulses taken on the fly, to gauge their fitness to turn a six-game Finals loss into something more glittery this time.

Most teams start the playoffs just hoping to count to 16 (victories). People may expect the Cavaliers to unlock some secret formula, gel into a super-team and chase down their potential while they’re stalking the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

“That’s on us to keep it [simple],” Love said after practice Saturday at the Cleveland Clinics facility. “I know that, as a human being, you want to get out ahead of yourself and know what’s next. But for us, we can’t do that. When we have that ‘win or die,’ ‘win or go home’ mentality and take it game by game, we’re so much better. I know in a lot of ways that’s a cliché, but that’s how we’re looking at it and I don’t think any of these guys will tell you different.”

And if Love gets neglected over in the corner waiting for some catch-and-shoot 3-pointers or if James takes over primary ball handling duties from Irving for a night?

“We don’t necessarily have time to hold our heads on who’s getting the balls, who’s not getting the ball,” Irving said. “It’s really just about winning and doing whatever it takes. And everyone has to understand that. It’s going to be different roles every single night. Teams are going to be making adjustments. So we just have to adjust accordingly, make decisions and continue to play our game. That’s it.”

As far as Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue is concerned, there’s only one thing he wants to see from his team besides victories in the best-of-seven series with the Pistons.

“With this team, I think you have to be physical,” Lue said. “Reggie Jackson is a big point guard, he attacks a lot. [Center Andre] Drummond‘s very physical, the best offensive rebounder in the league.[Marcus] Morris and Tobias [Harris] at the 3-4 positions, they’re very physical. The biggest thing for me is, I want our team to come out and be physical on both ends.”

Numbers preview: Cavs-Pistons


VIDEO: Cavaliers-Pistons: By the Numbers

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — While the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs have been making history out West, the Cleveland Cavaliers have put themselves in position to take on the winner of what should be a dogfight in the Western Conference finals.

Of course, the Cavs’ season hasn’t exactly gone by quietly. There was a coaching change (with a 30-11 record) in January and a bit of strife (whether real or manufactured) in and out of the locker room.

The Cavs did address their biggest area of need after last season. They jumped from 20th to 10th in defensive efficiency, though they did take a step backward on that end of the floor after Tyronn Lue took over for David Blatt.

Cleveland’s roster still has its flaws, but it also has the best talent in the East and an ability to flip the switch like no other team in the conference. The Cavs’ path back to The Finals begins with a series against the Detroit Pistons, who are making their first trip to the postseason since 2009, when they were swept out of the first round by LeBron James and the Cavs.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for the 1-8 series in the East, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Cleveland Cavaliers (57-25)

Pace: 95.5 (28)
OffRtg: 108.1 (4)
DefRtg: 102.3 (10)
NetRtg: +5.8 (4)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Detroit: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

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Cavs notes:

Detroit Pistons (44-38)

Pace: 97.4 (20)
OffRtg: 103.3 (15)
DefRtg: 103.4 (13)
NetRtg: -0.2 (16)

Regular season: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Cleveland: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

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Pistons notes:

The matchup

Season series: Pistons won 3-1 (2-0 in Cleveland)
Nov. 17 – Pistons 104, Cavs 99
Jan. 29 – Cavs 114, Pistons 106
Feb. 22 – Pistons 96, Cavs 88
Apr. 13 – Pistons 112, Cavs 110 (OT)

Pace: 96.3
CLE OffRtg: 103.6 (16th vs. DET)
DET OffRtg: 106.2 (12th vs. CLE)

Matchup notes:

Blogtable: State of Cavs as playoffs near?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: State of Cavs as playoffs near? | Outlook on 76ers’ future? | Your All-Rookie team picks are?



VIDEOKevin Love talks after the Cavs’ win

> The Warriors are the No. 1 seed in the West and appear to be better than they were last year. The Cavs are the No. 1 seed in the East. Are they better than they were last year?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Yes, if only because Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving appear to be fully healthy going into the playoffs. And Tyronn Lue made the right call starting Tristan Thompson at center, giving the Cavs a chance to put their most athletic and dangerous lineup on the floor together in the playoffs — which would feature Iman Shumpert (if healthy) at the three and LeBron at the four (if LeBron will do it). Will be interesting to see how Lue splits minutes at the point — Cleveland’s best defensive lineups feature Matthew Dellevadova rather than Irving. I think all the soap opera stuff that follows the Cavs during the regular season dissipates once the playoffs begin. They have a much easier path to The Finals compared with Golden State.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: The Cavaliers are better for several reasons, chiefly (knock on wood) because they’re healthier than the crew that played five of six Finals games without Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. Love was lost in the first round against Boston, Irving was already gimpy before he went out in Game 1 against Golden State, and LeBron James was left to shoulder the load while steering along the likes of Tristan Thompson and Matthew Dellavedova on training wheels. That was valuable experience for those role players, and both Irving and Love are relatively OK and eager to create some postseason highlights of their own. Channing Frye was a nice “get” at the trade deadline as a stretch big. Having Tyronn Lue as head coach removes some tension from the sideline that apparently existed last year under David Blatt. Finally, James can hear the clock ticking – he’s been to five straight Finals, but is 2-3 in them and would love to check off the “Championship for The ‘Land” box sooner rather than later. That’s a good urgency for the Cavaliers right now.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Physically, yes. Kyrie Irving is recovered. So is Kevin Love. LeBron is LeBron. Mentally, well, that’s a whole different story. Rarely has there been a 57-win team where you have to wonder if their heads and hearts are really in it together. They have the best roster in the East. Now they just have to act like it.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: No. At least not yet. The Cavs can get there — one impressive stretch in the playoffs and the bandwagon will fill pretty quick — but the team capable of winning a championship a year ago has just as much or more to prove in 2016. The mood in the locker room sans coach David Blatt might be better, but that doesn’t mean the team that got to a Game 6 of The Finals despite being so shorthanded is better. And the mood might not be better. I’ll wait for the next foggy LeBron James tweet to let you know for sure.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comCleveland looks pretty much the same, with marginal improvements in defense and court awareness but still dragging an annoying habit of inconsistency with Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, the two non-LeBron players who matter most. Bottom line, though: Whether the Cavs are better or worse than they were last season after 82 games is meaningless. What matters is whether the 2016 postseason is better than the 2015 postseason.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Technically, yes. History tells us how important it is to rank in the top 10 defensively, and the Cavs rank in the top 10 in defensive efficiency after ranking 20th last season. But they weren’t a very consistent defensive team, regressed on that end under Tyronn Lue, and aren’t at their best defensively when both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love on the floor. Though they’re healthier this season, they’re not any more likely to win a championship.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Cavaliers were not the No. 1 seed in the East last year, so by that standard alone they are a better team right now than they were this time last year. They are certainly going into the postseason healthy and with the working knowledge of how to manage this process as a group. LeBron James is sharpening his game at just the right time and having both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love in a good groove bodes well for the Cavaliers making another deep playoff trip. All that said, I’m not sure they have any better shot at capturing the Larry O’Brien Trophy this time around. There are two Western Conference powers a clear cut above them in my eyes.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: I’m not so sure the Warriors are better. They won more games this year, they’re more sure of themselves than ever and their integrity is second to none. But are they as strong defensively as last year? It’s something to watch for in the playoffs. The Cavs were playing at a higher level last year, no doubt. By Game 3 of the NBA Finals, however, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were gone. If they stay healthy this time, will their upside be higher? Undoubtedly so: They begin the playoffs with a bigger advantage in the East than the Warriors have in the West. And if the Cavs reach The Finals with LeBron, Irving and Love playing at a high level, who’s to say they can’t win?

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I don’t know. Or at least, I haven’t seen enough of this Cavs team under Tyronn Lue to come to a conclusion. Think of the way the Cavs played last year during the postseason, particularly The Finals — LeBron basically walking the ball up, using the shot clock, trying to create something. This was partly due to injuries, sure, but also because that seemed to be the Cavs’ default on the offensive end. Of late the Cavs seem to be playing with more energy and verve. Which Cavs team will we see in the postseason? that could make all the difference.

Morning shootaround — April 1


VIDEO: Highlights from Thursday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Irving: Cavs ‘still team to beat’ in NBA | Report: Kobe turned down Euroleague offer | Westbrook saves OKC against shorthanded Clippers | Report: Terry interviews for UAB opening

No. 1: Irving says Cavs still ‘team to beat’ in NBA — The Cleveland Cavaliers have already matched last season’s win total (53) with seven games to play. They seem to have a solid grip on the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. They are also, however, 2-2 in their last four games and have looked a bit shaky at times since the All-Star break. Cavs star guard Kyrie Irving isn’t hearing any of that doubt, though, and had some strong words to say about his team’s place in the NBA hierarchy after last night’s win against the Brooklyn Nets, writes Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com:

“We’re still to the team to beat honestly, regardless of what anybody else says,” he said after the 107-87 win over the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday. “‘[Pundits talking about] what we need and what we don’t need and what we need to get better at. . . . ‘ Us internally, we know we have to improve on a lot of things but we’ve just got to handle business as professionals and continue to get better.”

Clarification was needed. I asked him if he’s saying the Cavaliers are the team to beat in the Eastern Conference or in the entire league. He didn’t backtrack.

“I feel like we’re the team to beat,” he replied. “Honestly, it’s open season until we get into the playoffs. I’ve got a lot more confidence than I think that anyone realizes in our team and what’s going on in our locker room.”

Their latest victory put them at 53 wins for the season, the total they accumulated last season. When LeBron James was informed of Irving’s comments, he didn’t completely join in on the “we’re the team to beat” narrative.

“I think we’re all confident in our ability when we’re playing at a high level,” James said. “We want to continue to use these games to get better. When the postseason starts, hopefully we can lock in, which I believe we can and make a run at it.”

A team with James, Irving and Kevin Love will always be a force to be reckoned with. At times the team has played down to the level of its competition and lost games it shouldn’t have. But the Cavs also have had some impressive road wins over some of top teams this league has to offer.

Cleveland has the third-best record in the association. So why aren’t the Cavaliers getting the respect they feel they deserve?

“It seems like that because everybody is watching Golden State. That’s why,” big man Tristan Thompson told cleveland.com. And that could be true. The Warriors are on pace to eclipse the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls’ NBA record of 72 wins, and Stephen Curry is rapidly becoming the face of the league.

“We’ve had a damn good season to this point and we’re going to continue that,” James said.


VIDEO: Kyrie Irving has some strong words after Thursday’s win

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Morning shootaround — March 25


VIDEO: Highlights from Thursday’s games

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cavs come out flat vs. Nets | George injures leg vs. Pacers | Gibson ’embarassed’ by Bulls’ recent losses

No. 1: Cavs come out flat in loss to Nets — Some nights in the NBA, it’s just not your night — no matter how good your team may be. At a cursory glance, that might be the storyline as the Eastern Conference-leading Cleveland Cavaliers lost on the road to the Eastern Conference cellar-dwelling Brooklyn Nets, 104-95. Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com was on hand for the defeat and notes that despite an otherworldly performance from LeBron James, the Cavs showed troubling signs in the loss:

On Thursday evening at Barclays Center, the rebuilding, interim coach-led 20-win Brooklyn Nets defeated a disinterested, lifeless Central Division champion Cleveland Cavaliers squad 104-95.

“Tonight we took a step backwards and we can’t afford to do that late in the season like this,” James said after scoring 30 points on 13-of-16 from the field. He converted his first 11 field goals and was a nightmare to deal with as he got inside the paint whenever he wanted.

He was asked if he took what the defense gave him.

“It’s what I took,” he quickly replied. “They didn’t give me anything. That’s what I took.”

It’s too bad James’ moody, locked-in demeanor didn’t rub off on his teammates. Excluding his performance, the rest of the Cavaliers shot 36.6 percent from the field and was 10-of-38 from the arc. Cleveland was down nine with 2:01 remaining and could not find the basket for the life of them. Before Jordan McRae made a meaningless three-pointer with nine seconds left, the Cavaliers had missed 10 straight shots and mustered all of nine points in the period.

Kevin Love (11) was 5-of-14 and had a dreadful 0-5 outing from long distance while Kyrie Irving (13 points) missed 16 of his 22 shots. For the second time in less than a week, he skipped out on speaking to the media.

Bad shooting nights happen and it’s excused. But what isn’t excusable is lacking a professional approach. Despite head coach Tyronn Lue urging his team to not take the court with a complacent attitude, that’s exactly what occurred.

They came out lackadaisical and entitled. Their passes weren’t zipped, but rather floated and telegraphed. What was supposed to be hard cuts to the basket looked like pre-game walk-through drills. Lue walked away from his postgame presser disgusted with how his team performed.

“If we don’t compete for 48 minutes, things like this will continue to happen,” he said.

“I started my postseason mindset a little early this year, understanding everything we’ve been through this year both on and off the floor,” James said. “I just want these guys to understand how important this moment is. We have a great opportunity to do something special, at least compete for something special.”

There’s a sad truth. In the three games Love has sat out this month, the Cavaliers have outscored their opponents by an average of 23.3 points. Moreover, opposing point guards seem to have a field day when going up against Irving.

Shane Larkin entered the game averaging six points and four assists, but left the arena with 16 points, seven assists and was 7-of-10 from the floor. It’s a trend that keeps repeating with quick guards against Irving.

“What bothers me is our effort sometimes and making sure our guys are understanding the moment that we have,” James said. “And that’s the only time I can get a little frustrated because I understand the moment that we have and it’s not a given that every year you have a team like this where you have an opportunity to do something special.”

Time is running out.

Flipping the switch seems like a dubious path to victory. There have been too many bad losses. Over time, it’s a pattern, and patterns are hard to break.


VIDEO: LeBron James says the Cavs ‘took a step backwards’ on Thursday

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Blogtable: State of Cavs as playoffs approach?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Lessons learned from Warriors-Spurs, Round 2? | Giannis’ future as a point guard? |
State of Cavs as playoffs near?



VIDEOThe Starters discuss the recent LeBron James social media issues

> The Cavaliers were 30-11 when they fired David Blatt and they’re 20-9 since. What exactly has changed under new coach Tyronn Lue? And who you taking in the Eastern Conference bracket, the Cavs or the field?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: I’m not sure a lot has changed, though the Cavs occasionally flash some of the devastating potential they have when all their oars are pulling the boat in the same direction. I still think their ultimate success or failure this season will depend on whether Lue can convince LeBron to play at the four full-time, which allows Cleveland to get Iman Shumpert on the floor and is, IMHO, the Cavs’ best potential defensive lineup (and I say that knowing NBA.com/Stats ranks the Matthew Dellavedova/J.R. Smith/James/Kevin Love/Tristan Thompson quintet as their best defensive group). I still take the Cavs over the field in the east — unless you can guarantee me seven healthy games from Chris Bosh in Miami. That would be appointment-viewing Eastern Conference finals TV.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comWhat’s changed is the Cavaliers can’t blame the coach anymore. They played that card when they fired David Blatt, shifting the onus from that moment forward onto the locker room, their three stars and LeBron James specifically. This is a sloppy, edgy, needlessly dramatic push they’re making to get back to The Finals — some of it due to their chemistry and flaws, some of it the result of being relatively ignored in a Warriors-and-Spurs season, some of it inevitable whenever James is involved. But the Cavaliers are going to get there, facing whoever’s still standing from the West. No other East team is beating them four out of seven, regardless of the level of hand-wringing or angst around Cleveland.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Nothing, except their defense has gotten worse and their head coach is not as condescending. The Cavs remain the overwrought drama queens of the NBA and, yes, I’m taking them against the East field.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: I’m still taking the Cavs, only with more pressure to succeed than before. (Which is saying something considering the expectations that had been in place.) They’re saying the mood in the locker room is much better, and that matters. Maybe it will matter more in the playoffs because it hasn’t translated to the regular-season standings. David Blatt produced results — a competitive showing in The Finals last June while severely shorthanded, the best record in the East this season at the time of the firing. If the Cavaliers go backward in the playoffs that’s a new set of pressure on the new coach.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The only thing that has changed under Tyronn Lue is LeBron James’ goofy tweets. Otherwise, this team is the same-old, same-old, capable of looking super and stinky in the same week, and even that means nothing right now. It’s all about the playoffs for the Cans and I still give them an advantage in the East over everyone because they still have LeBron.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThey’ve been almost as good as the Warriors offensively since the coaching change, but their defense has regressed. When two of your three “stars” are defensive liabilities, it’s tough to be a consistent and elite team on that end of the floor. The challenge for Lue will be finding the right combinations to complement LeBron James, especially in The Finals, where the Cavs are going for the second straight year. As improved as the top half of the Eastern Conference has been and as much I look forward to the East playoffs this year, I can’t take the field.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: They’ve certainly looked like a different offensive team under Lue. Kevin Love has looked more comfortable and they’ve been able to incorporate Channing Frye into the mix with relative ease. Their defensive slippage has been a bit alarming, especially for a team that prided itself on being proficient in that part of the game. But I didn’t expect some major spike from the 30-11 wave they rode under Blatt. Bottom line, these Cavaliers know just like we all do that their season will not be measured on wins and losses between November and April. The true measure of this team comes from mid-April until late June. It’s that simple. And yes, Cleveland gets the nod over the field.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com Lue was promoted with orders to make changes to a winning team. Clearly those changes have been backfiring, especially on defense. Even so, I’m still picking the Cavs to reach The Finals in spite of themselves. What is most clear, based on the recent backslide, is that these players had little right to be blaming Blatt for anything. It’s still too early to make final pronouncements, but right now it looks very much like Blatt was the grownup in this relationship.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: To be honest, they don’t look all that different to me, other than perhaps playing with a little more pace. We aren’t entirely privileged to knowing how things were in that locker room before Blatt was deposed, but my guess is the biggest change post-Blatt is in the locker room dynamic and around the organization. And sure, the field may be closer to the Cavs than they were a year ago, but I’ll still take the Cavs.

Cavaliers put rest before No. 1 seed


VIDEO: LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers will prioritize rest over the No.1 seed

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The maintenance plan in San Antonio is a staple of Gregg Popovich‘s program, no matter where the Spurs are in the standings this time of year.

But in Cleveland, where the Cavaliers are just a game ahead of the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference playoff chase? Apparently so. Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue made that clear to reporters today as he discussed the way he will approach the final days of the regular season in preparation for, what he anticipates to be a second consecutive deep playoff run for his team.

“We definitely want the No. 1 seed if we can get it, but I think we have to rest our guys also,” Lue said, ESPN’s Dave McMenamin reported after the team’s shootaround Monday morning. “I think health going into the playoffs is more important than the seeding. If we’re fortunate enough to get the No. 1 seed, it will be great for us. But if not, then we just got to play through it.

“I think all championship teams have to win on the road anyway. So, [the No. 1 seed is] important to us, but also being healthy going into the playoffs is more important.”

The Raptors own the tiebreaker of the Cavaliers, having won the season series 2-1.

The Golden State Warriors, locked in a race for the top spot in the Western Conference standings against the Spurs, might face a similar dilemma, depending on how things transpire in the coming days.

The Warriors have a three-game lead over the Spurs with two games remaining against Popovich’s crew. They are chasing the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls’ NBA record 72-win regular season mark as well as trying to secure home court advantage throughout the playoffs. The Warriors are also 32-0 at home this season with nine of their remaining 13 games at Oracle Arena. They need to go 11-2 to break the Bulls’ record.

Warriors coach Steve Kerr addressed the topic before his team lost to the Spurs in San Antonio Saturday night, saying that he is already finding ways to keep his team fresh by resting his guys during games and adjusting his practice schedule and routine to make sure his team remains fresh for a defense of their title.

Lue played on championship teams with the Los Angeles Lakers, so he surely understands the need to rest his stars — LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love — in an effort to keep them fresh for a long postseason run.

But if it costs the Cavaliers the No. 1 seed, it will no doubt raise a few eyebrows.


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