Following one of the most inept defensive performances in Cavaliers history, LeBron James said his team looked primed for a short postseason appearance, barring any changes.
The Cavs fell 148-124 to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday, tying a franchise record for most points allowed in regulation. They are 3-9 since Christmas Day.
“Playoffs? We can’t even start thinking about that, not the way we’re playing right now,” James said. “We could easily get bounced early in the playoffs if they started next weekend. Haven’t even began thinking about the postseason.”
“I’ve never in my basketball life gave up 148 points, not even probably playing video games,” James said. “They got everything that they wanted. Inside, outside — they had it moving. … It’s just a really bad, really bad loss on our part.”
It’s the Cavs’ accumulation of losses that is more disturbing, leaving a team coming off three straight NBA Finals appearances sounding rattled. When James was asked to identify the No. 1 problem facing Cleveland, all he could do was chuckle at his team’s predicament.
“That’s way too hard,” James said. “We got a lot of things going on. It’s not 1, it’s 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. We got some searching to figure out how we can be better.”
One potential change James said he does not agree with is Cleveland letting go of coach Tyronn Lue in response to the team’s recent doldrums.
“I would hope not,” James said. “But I really don’t know. I don’t know what’s going to happen with our team. I have no idea what conversations have been going on. Me personally, I’ve been trying to stay as laser-sharp as I can to keep my guys ready to go out and play. Obviously, it hasn’t resulted in wins, but I got to stay as fresh mentally as much I can with the struggles. I can’t worry about job securities and trades and things of that nature. I just stay as focused as I can every night to go out and compete and try to help us win ballgames.”
Cavs guard JR Smith said Lue and his coaching staff are not to blame.
“I mean, they can’t go out there and play for us,” Smith told ESPN when asked about the staff’s effectiveness. “If they come up with the schemes and we execute those schemes to a T and we’re still losing at a certain point and time, they can make their adjustments. But we’re just not executing offensively or defensively.”
Lue defended his staff’s ability to connect with its players.
“I think so,” he said. “I think at times matchup based, it’s tough — a lot of matchups on the floor — but they respond. Not giving up on us and we’re not giving up on them, so, that’s not a problem at all. That wouldn’t be the case.”
James said it falls on him to find a way to turn around the season.
“I can’t break,” he said. “I’m the last one that can break at this point. I’m the leader of this team. Hopefully we can get some wins, and that definitely helps, but I’m going to stay as positive as I can be. You guys know me, patience is not always been a thing for me, but knowing the rough patch that we’re in right now, that’s what I’m going to give to this team. Just stay positive.”
The Cavs will practice Sunday, making it a rare week in which they’ll practice three times, and Lue said he’ll reserve his comments to his players until then, when they have their film session.
In the meantime, Cleveland’s players will fester about another blowout loss on national TV.
“It’s embarrassing,” Isaiah Thomas said. “It’s not acceptable. We can only go up from here, that’s the only positive about that. We’ve got to really look in the mirror, look at ourselves and get some pride.”
Asked to compare the Cavs with his former team, Thomas said the Boston Celtics “were just a better defensive team.”
“We played a lot harder,” Thomas said of the Celtics, “and we have the guys to do that on this team. We just got to do it and really lock in on that end. We really need to trust each other on that end, and that is the biggest thing on defense is trusting the next guy that got your back, and that guy who helps trusting the next guy after that who has the backend.
“I think on that end we do not trust each other, and that has to change.”
The Cavs’ next six opponents, starting Tuesday against the San Antonio Spurs, all have records of .500 or better.
“I’m sure everybody’s handling it their own way,” Dwyane Wade said. “Some might handle it with a couple bottles of wine, some may handle it other ways. But only speaking on my behalf as a competitor, these times suck. These times are the times that make everything else, you understand the importance of winning games, you understand how hard it is to win championships. It makes you appreciate things when you go through the tough times.”
Navigating those tough times, Wade says, will involve uncomfortable conversations.
“I think the biggest thing that can happen is can’t no one be sensitive to whatever it needs to be,” Wade said. “There’s [for example] 13 things that’s wrong and coach decides to point out one thing and you’re the one that he points out, you can’t be sensitive to it. You’ve got to understand that you can be better and this can be done better. We have to take accountability. I think we want it because we want to win. We’re looking for it. So hopefully in these next few weeks before the All-Star break we can start getting a little more accountable to ourselves and to this team and just play a little better.”
As bad as things are right now for the Cavs, James says their only option is to focus on improving.
“Just want to keep working on habits,” James said. “I’m just here to get better. I want to get better. We’re in a tough spot right now, but we will get better. It could be worse. We could be 15th in the East or out of the playoff picture. We still got to get back to what we do and we will figure it out. I’m not here to look for pity on what we’re trying to do. No one is going to feel sorry for us. I don’t feel sorry for us either. I want us to get better.”