I told myself I wouldn’t do it. Not again. Not this year.
I tried to convince myself there’s no sense in getting stressed about the regular season when it came to the Cleveland Cavaliers. They lost head-scratching games last year, and still plowed their way to the NBA Finals. So, if there were bad nights in the 2017 campaign, no worries, they’ll be fine. No sense in wasting any time worrying about losing meaningless contests.
It only took eight games for this mentality to be tested.
As the Cavs wrapped up last night’s loss against the Indiana Pacers, their fourth straight defeat, it felt near impossible to look the other way. Try as you might, there’s no tuning out the fact Cleveland has serious problems, and they get worse by the game.
Where do you want to start? The four straight losses in general? The fact each defeat came against teams not expected to do much of anything this year? The fact the last three losses have been by a combined 58 points?
Even the most optimistic Cavs fan has to see these as glaring. Not only is Cleveland losing badly, its doing so against bad teams. Worse yet, last night’s defeat came after the players reportedly met internally to air everything out and try to get things back on track.
The result? Another game of getting scorched by an inferior opponent. Another game where the Cavs looked slow. Another game where they looked old.
Again, it’d be normal to say “who cares, it’s November.” We’ve seen struggles like this even later in the season over the past two years, yet Cleveland still found itself playing in June. With this in mind, why wouldn’t you shrug off the early season rut?
You could also lean on some obvious call-outs – the team isn’t at full strength, while also still getting used to significant roster changes.
Despite all of this, I find it tough to tune out what I’m seeing. It’s mainly due to the fact the issues might not be as simple as trying harder.
Last night was the first time in a while we actually saw the Cavs show energy on defense. The result was a 17-point loss. Even with increased defensive effort, Cleveland couldn’t stop the Pacers from scoring.
Despite the hustle, the Cavs were still too slow to properly defend. If you didn’t know Cleveland was the oldest team in the NBA, you’ve made this realization watching the past few games.
The problem is this isn’t something you can fix with more hustle. As the saying goes, Father Time is undefeated. If the Cavs look old, it’s because they are. Schemes or increased effort won’t instantly solve issues caused by their being long in the tooth.
Of course, if you listen to various members of the team, the issue is the players are just out of shape. The fact this is an excuse is alarming on its own.
Sure, LeBron James had an ankle injury which sidelined him through much of training camp. Still, it’s these players’ job to play basketball. It’s OK to be upset about professional athletes claiming they’re just not in shape enough to play effectively a month into the season.
As you can see, there are more than a few reasons why we can’t just shrug off Cleveland’s ugly start. If you still don’t believe me, don’t take my word for it, just ask James.
Earlier this week, he casually claimed he wasn’t going to worry about the early slump because it was only October. Last night, a reportedly aggravated James simply said, “We can’t sustain effort for 48 minutes.” Quite a shift in tone in a short amount of time, no?
This is why it’s not too early to worry about what we’re seeing from Cleveland. Where in previous seasons it was simply a matter of waking up and trying harder, this rut may not be as easy to maneuver out of.
The hope is this is yet another instance of everyone making too big a deal out of early-season struggles, issues we’ll look back on and laugh at as the Cavs roll through another deep playoff run. At the moment, though, the worries with Cleveland feel a little more significant than usual.
Until proven otherwise, I’d say it’s safe to start feeling real concern about where the Cavs go from here.
Casey Drottar is an independent sports writer. Subscribe to his podcast, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook
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