CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – If you thought Wednesday night’s win in Boston was an indication that the Cleveland Cavaliers had found themselves, think again.
The defending NBA champions continue to be the one of the league’s most talented, yet bipolar teams.
With 5, that’s right 5, Atlanta Hawks out due to injury or rest, the Cavs laid an egg in one of their more embarrassing performances in a long, long time that resulted in a 114-100 loss Friday night at Quicken Loans Arena.
“As a group, our energy was very low,” LeBron James said. “I have no idea why.”
Atlanta tried to concede the game before it even tipped off.
Kent Bazemore (right knee bone bruise), Paul Milsap (left knee synovitis), Dennis Schroder (right mid-foot sprain), Thabo Sefolosha (right groin strain) and Dwight Howard (rest) did not play which gave Cleveland a chance to inch closer to nailing down the No. 1 seed in the East and getting a couple of games next week off before the playoffs.
Instead, they decided to take the night off on the floor.
“Obviously a bad performance,” coach Tyronn Lue said, stating the obvious. “To beat Boston and have the game that we had and to come back and not validate it against a team that didn’t even play their guys. I didn’t think we respected them tonight. I thought we thought we’d just mess around with the game until it was time to knuckle down.
“By that time they already had confidence. That’s who we’ve been. That’s who we are. I hate it. These games like this come back and bite you, especially down the stretch when you’re trying to get some rest. Trying to hold onto that No. 1 seed and getting rest and you come out and have a performance like this, it’s not good.”
James wasn’t the problem for the Cavs. Although having to play another 41:25 in a 14-point defeat was. He finished with 27 points on 12 of 15 shooting to go with 8 rebounds and 7 assists.
“You expect us to want to get better,” James said. “We’d been doing that, but we took a couple steps back.”
The rest of his teammates were awful. And that is putting it mildly.
Take away James’ shooting numbers and Cleveland shot 27 of 66 from the field while providing zero resistance defensively on the other end of the floor.
Despite being ice cold from beyond the arc early, the Cavs just kept jacking 3 after 3 after 3 and missing 3 after 3 after 3. They were 2 of 14 after 1 quarter, 6 of 23 at halftime, 7 of 29 after 3 and they finished 9 of 36 from downtown while hitting 30 of 45 from the field inside the arc.
“We took a lot of bad shots,” Lue said. “That’s the reason we couldn’t get back in transition a lot of times.”
The Cavs looked lethargic from the tip.
They took the path of least resistance on both ends of the floor and it cost them dearly.
“It was a bad effort all the way around,” forward Kevin Love said.
Love was 6 of 17, including 3 of 10 from 3. He scored 15 points and pulled down 15 rebounds with Dwight Howard getting the night off for Atlanta, who still managed to tie their season high with 114 points.
The Hawks bench obliterated the Cavs outscoring them 55-21 led by former Cav Mike Dunleavy, who put up 20 in 19:34.
“Their bench hurt us pretty bad,” Lue said. “These are nights we need guys to step up and be better.”
In the span on mere minutes, the Cavs went from leading by 7 to trailing by 20 in the fourth quarter.
Sums up what has been a frustrating, maddening and puzzling season perfectly.
There are just 3 more games left until the real season begins but if their approach Friday night resurfaces after April 12, they can forget about repeating as NBA champions because they won’t even get back to the NBA Finals.