CLEVELAND — In the eyes of C.J. Miles, the Cavaliers have plenty for which to play.
“It goes back to the entire reason you play basketball,” Miles said. “You want to compete.”
Miles is a Cavs’ reserve swingman, one of the team’s true veterans and a fireball of positive energy and enthusiasm. He was speaking after the Cavs’ 95-90 home win over Washington on Tuesday.
It was also the first game after the Cavs learned Kyrie Irving is expected to miss 3-4 weeks (or basically, the rest of the season) with a sprained shoulder.
They have 18 games left. They aren’t going to the playoffs. They’re mostly young, fairly inconsistent from quarter to quarter, and are now without not just Anderson Varejao, but their All-Star point guard.
They’re clearly improving, and that’s really been the mission all year.
But the dog days of the season are here, and when the Wizards jumped to an 11-0 lead, it looked as if the Cavs might just mail it in the rest of the way. It’s what a lot of amateurs might do.
But these guys are professionals, Miles said.
“Even if you’re not going to the playoffs, you don’t want to lose, man” he said. “I want to win every night, and I feel like that should be focus every night.
“We’re competitors for a living. We’re supposed to compete. Plain and simple to me. I don’t know any other way to put it.”
Miles is like those who watch the Cavs on a regular basis. He sees the improvement in rookie guard Dion Waiters (20 points, including 16 in the second half) and second-year power forward Tristan Thompson (13 points, 14 rebounds).
He understands the benefits of newer teammates like Marreese Speights, Wayne Ellington and Shaun Livingston, who starts in place of Irving.
Heck, even Miles just arrived (via free agency) before the season. So not only are the Cavs relatively young, but they’re almost entirely new.
Throw in the injuries to Irving and Varejao — and, well, sometimes struggles make sense. Miles admitted that, throwing in the ridiculous road schedule to start the season by saying, “I’ve never seen anything like it since I started playing basketball.”
Still, struggles can’t be blamed on those things alone.
“We definitely had some things that didn’t go our way,” Miles said.
“But we had some things that didn’t go our way because of us,” he said. “There have been nights where we could’ve just competed harder, and had a better outcome.”
That’s one thing the Cavs will work on in this final stretch. They will work on things like focus, trusting the process and the idea that it won’t always be this way. And yes, just competing harder.
They will want to win. And that shouldn’t be too difficult. At this level, odds are, it’s a natural instinct.
“It should be. That’s what gets you here,” said Miles, who scored 10 points. “You’re talking about the 400 best guys in the world (in the NBA). They’re here for a reason. That should be instilled in you no matter what.
“If you didn’t care about winning, you never would’ve beat out all the guys that wanted to make the team. You never would’ve gone hard at workouts for the draft. Here, you have no choice but to compete.”
So if you’re wondering if the Cavs will think about not trying, about not caring, about packing it in with one eye on the draft lottery … well, that’s just not in the plans.
“We’ve made tremendous strides as far as guys getting comfortable with and trusting each other,” Miles said. “Guys learning how to play with each other was the biggest thing early. I don’t think that’s the main thing now.
“The biggest thing now is just locking in for 48 minutes. This is the part of the year when we can focus on that, and yeah, maybe spoil things for some other teams.”