Last night, as the Cleveland Cavaliers were busy throwing away a potential victory over the second place Toronto Raptors, I had to keep repeatedly telling myself the same thing – the season isn’t over.
When you follow a Cavs game like last night’s 99-97 defeat in Toronto on Twitter, keeping to this mantra is a necessity. Cleveland Twitter is a dangerous place during ugly losses, to the point where the Cavs’ season has been deemed a failure at least five or six times already this year. However, I don’t think the loss to the Raptors means Cleveland’s season is already finished.
Was it ugly? Was the defensive effort, especially when it came to guarding Toronto All-Star Kyle Lowry, a disgrace? Did the Cavs essentially gift-wrap the game for their opponent?
Yes on all accounts. At the same time, seasons aren’t won or lost in February.
That said, I’m certainly not shrugging off last night’s game, or this incredibly inconsistent week of basketball. This Cavs team is still full of flaws, and right now, it has a ways to go before becoming a championship caliber squad.
Anyone who’s watched Cleveland this year knows the past week has been a microcosm of the entire season.
There was the thorough beat-down of the Oklahoma City Thunder on their own court last Sunday, seen by many as one of the Cavs’ signature wins of the year. So, it was only natural to follow it up the very next night with a dud of a loss to the visiting Detroit Pistons. The offense fired on all cylinders in the rebound victory over the Charlotte Hornets, but then came last night’s game against the Raptors.
Every time you thought Cleveland was starting to look like the true team to beat in the East, old habits returned. The team’s big three – LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving – have followed up excellent games with miserable performances. The Cavs’ defense will shift between suffocating and pillow-soft in the span of 48 hours.
It all adds up to the main reason why Cleveland still can’t be considered a true threat to make a championship run this year. The team overall seems completely unable to generate consistency.
The most frustrating part about this is the fact it all seems to be based solely on individual effort. The players see exactly what it takes to dismantle a team like the Thunder and show no interest in generating any of it facing a lesser club like the Pistons. The Cavs will up the intensity on defense until they have a comfortable lead only to then immediately take their foot off the gas.
I have no idea what the explanation is behind any of this. Why a team with championship expectations can’t seem to generate any momentum whatsoever due mostly to issues in giving consistent effort is beyond me.
However, whatever the reasoning is, Cleveland is running low on time to figure it out.
The Cavs have 25 games left before the postseason. While it may seem like a lot, enough to at least merit not panicking, these remaining contests will go by quicker than you think. In this time, Cleveland is going to have to look within and figure out what the issues are, because this kind of playing style won’t lead to a lengthy playoff run.
I’d understand the logic behind saying, “Who cares? They flipped the switch in no time last postseason.” At the same time, the players losing a game like last night’s during a week like this past one and shrugging it off under the belief they’ll just wait till the postseason to figure it out seems like a strategy sure to backfire.
Again, I have no idea what’s causing a team full of veterans to follow up dominant wins with uninspired losses. But whatever it is, it’s making Cleveland’s road to the postseason a rocky one.
You can use the “there’s still time” excuse all you want, but this claim is coming close to expiring. The Cavs still have sizable problems to figure out as the playoffs near, and until these are solved, there’s no sense in thinking about a potential championship anytime soon.