TORONTO — If the Cleveland Cavaliers weren’t feeling the urgency of their midseason slump before Thursday’s 133-99 blowout loss to the undermanned Toronto Raptors, they certainly have reason to feel it now thanks to Cavs coach Tyronn Lue’s postgame challenge to them.
“We’ve got to be better,” Lue said after the Cavs lost for the seventh time in the past 10 games. “We know that. But until we play better defensively, I think offensively sharing the basketball, everyone on the same page — and if guys have agendas, we’ve got to get rid of our agendas and play the right way.”
Asked what he meant by “agendas,” Lue declined to elaborate, saying he meant “just what I said.”
LeBron James, who is 126 point shy of becoming the seventh player to reach the 30,000-point milestone, says he’ll trust his gut when it’s time to retire, but that time isn’t now.
When Lue’s “agendas” remark was relayed to LeBron James, James couldn’t identify what Lue was referring to.
“I mean, I would hope not,” James said. “I don’t [have an agenda]. At this point, three and a half, four years in this thing, I hope not. I don’t know. I don’t have one. I just want to win. I just like playing ball the right way, getting guys involved and winning the game also. I don’t.”
Kevin Love said he was perplexed by Lue’s remark.
“It’s my 10th year,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of vets on this team. If there are agendas, I don’t see it. But I’m sure whoever he’s speaking of or speaking to with that, he’ll address it, as we usually do. So, I don’t know.”
When a reporter told Love that from the outside the Cavs don’t look good right now, Love responded: “From the inside it doesn’t look good either. … There’s just a lot of stuff we have to clean up. I think, first and foremost, we have to go out there and play extremely hard and inspired.”
Cavs reserve Channing Frye told ESPN that Lue’s remarks should put his team on notice.
“This is a business,” Frye said. “Maybe it’s meant to be a wake-up call. My bags have been half-packed since I got here. This is meant to be a championship group. We have to understand, if we’re not helping move everything in a championship direction, there could be changes.”
Cavs Sputter If Defense Fails to Step Up
Cleveland’s prolific offense can score with anyone, but when the Cavaliers’ defense goes through extended cold streaks as it has twice this season, their overall record follows suit.
W-L DEF. EFF. RANK
First 12 games 5-7 Last
Next 21 games 19-2 16th
Last 8 games 2-6 Last
The NBA trade deadline is Feb. 8, less than a month away.
Frye added a bit of optimism, surely aware the Cavs struggled in years past, only to improve come playoff time: “When we get it right, we’ll get it very right.”
The Cavs allowed 127 points or more for the third straight game. They also were outrebounded 63-35 by the Raptors. Much of the damage was done by the Toronto bench, with the Raptors’ subs outscoring the Cavs’ second unit 76-48. And all of this was with Serge Ibaka (suspension) and Kyle Lowry (lower back) out of the lineup.
“We’re in a funk,” James said. “Once again, we’re back to the beginning of the season. Just got to find a way to get out of it. It’s going to start with us and just everybody getting back to what we were doing when we were playing good ball. But we’re so fragile. I don’t know where it kind of went wrong or what happened to switch back, but we’ve got to try to pick it back up and find it.”
Cleveland started the season 5-7, then won 18 out of 19. Now the team is mired in its current slide.
Frustration seemed to boil over for the Cavs in the first quarter Thursday, when TNT cameras captured James in a heated discussion with Cleveland player development coach Phil Handy during a timeout.
“Just us trying to figure it out,” James said, explaining the exchange. “It’s not for everybody. We came in here and talked about it, and that’s what happens at times. Family’s not always about a bed of roses.”
After falling down by as many as 41 to the Minnesota Timberwolves in Monday night’s 127-99 loss, the Cavs trailed by as many as 35 in Toronto.
When asked what was most concerning about the Cavs’ past two losses, James pointed to both games being so lopsided that his nights have ended early, adding that his team is getting “tore up.”
At Thursday morning’s shootaround, James discussed the Cavs’ seemingly annual regular-season struggles, saying, “This is just us.” When a reporter referenced the comment, James was quick to point out that he never said the Cavs were guaranteed a rebirth in the playoffs.
“I don’t mess around with hitting the switch,” James said. “That’s not how the game is played, and you don’t cheat the game. … I also said that you can’t mess around not playing well going into the playoffs.”
Isaiah Thomas, who wasn’t on the Cavs the past several seasons and thus was never a part of their midseason struggles, offered a solution to turn things around.
“Play harder,” he said. “Play with a sense of urgency. Put your pride aside. These last two games have been very tough for us, but we’ve got to look ourselves in the mirror and really buckle down as individuals. The biggest thing that I see we’re not doing, we’re not playing for each other right now, offensively and defensively. Defensively, everybody’s on an island playing defense by themselves. Offensively, it’s a lot of one-on-one, no ball movement. It’s things we can fix, that’s the good thing about it. We just have to do it, and we have to do it now. You can lose games, but you can’t get blown out. With how good we really are, we can’t allow these types of games to happen.”