Losses like latest against Suns shows Cavs still learning life in the NBA. And that's no good for anyone.
By SAM AMICOFS Ohio
CLEVELAND — The
Cavaliers are entering dangerous territory, the kind that can cause a team to lose a grip on the buying public way too soon in a season.
That's not a criticism. It's a harsh reality.
The latest example came Tuesday, a 91-78 embarrassment against a Phoenix team that isn't very good.
Did we mention the game was at home?
Did we mention the
Cavs blew a 26-point lead against these same Suns a few weeks back — and that coach Byron Scott projected his team would therefore come out with an "edge?"
Well, Scott was certainly justified in making such a prediction. But the only edge coming from the Cavs' side was displayed by (who else?) center Anderson Varejao.
As Scott was quick to add, "Everyone else sucked."
And that right there is the dangerous part. The Cavs need to stop sucking at The Q. They've been blown out there twice now — or about half of the home games. That's right in front of people who come to the arena to see a basketball game.
Instead, they got this. Whatever it was.
Now, we can probably cut the Cavs some slack.
This was their fourth game in five nights. They played like wild men, and very well, in road losses over the weekend at Orlando, Miami and Memphis.
They flew home from Memphis late Monday night, while the Suns relaxed in Cleveland — since Sunday morning.
So this was hardly a home game, despite what the schedule may have called it. At best, it was like playing at a neutral site. In (conspiracy) theory, it was some sort of evil scheme dreamt up by the NBA's heartless schedule-maker.
But guess what? Get used to it.
The Cavs will finish the week the same way — with a game at Atlanta on Friday, followed by a visit from Portland on Saturday.
It's cruel, it's unusual, it's life in the big leagues.
Varejao understands that. He's 30 years old. He's been around a while.
He showed it with 20 points and 17 rebounds for his sixth straight double-double. It was also the fifth time in 14 games he's pulled down at least 17 boards, topping out at 22 the night before vs. Memphis.
Basically, Varejao doesn't just box out and chase down the ball. He wills his body into doing things it simply should not be capable of doing night after night. As an added bonus, he doesn't complain, he doesn't make excuses, he doesn't waver.
He just goes and gets the ball — opponent and crummy schedule be darned.
As for everyone else, well, yeah. They're learning.
Dion Waiters (16 points, seven assists) is still a rookie, still adjusting to the brutal reality of NBA travel and life without a backcourt running mate who also happens to be the reigning Rookie of the Year.
But again, get used to it, kid — as Kyrie Irving is expected to miss at least another couple of weeks. Worse, who knows what will become of Waiters himself? He's scheduled to have an MRI on his left hand Wednesday morning after hitting his hand on the backboard.
The same goes for Daniel Gibson, the key bench component who missed his second game in a week with right elbow soreness. Overall, he's missed three of the previous six.
None of this is particularly good news for a team that's won just three of its first 15 games. When that happens, the last thing you need is to fall apart physically.
The last thing you need, man, are nights like these.
Not long ago one opposing general manager told me one way to make the playoffs is to "beat the sub-.500 teams at home and give yourselves a chance on the road."
The Cavs usually give themselves a chance on the road. That's a good thing, since they can't seem to get away from it.
But they aren't doing the first part at home. They need to find a way to change that — and fast.
What's happening today just isn't good for anybody. Not the fans, not the guys in the locker room, not the franchise.
Worse, the Cavs clearly have the potential to compete when the odds are against them. They proved that. Now, they need to understand something else about the NBA: You need to prove it every night, or people will stop caring.