Between public spats on the court and a defense that has regressed this season, the Cleveland Cavaliers haven’t looked like the same imposing force we’ve seen the past two seasons. To make matters worse, the Cavs are currently a half-game behind the Celtics for the No. 1 seed in the East and are just 5-5 in their past 10 games.
The warning signs are impossible to ignore, and it has Skip Bayless losing confidence that the Cavs can return to the Finals for a third consecutive season. Bayless said as much on Tuesday’s “Undisputed”, telling Shannon Sharpe that his confidence LeBron James will reach a seventh consecutive Finals has plummeted.
Confidence level is a four
“I picked the Cavaliers before the year started to win it all because I thought they would skate through the East and get what was left of the West and be able to re-impose their will maybe on a Golden State or whoever came out of the West because I thought they would be fresh and ready for the Finals. I don’t think that anymore. I’m gonna say my confidence level has plummeted to a four on a scale of 10 because you know what this team is going to have to fight its way through the East now because this team is fighting itself sort of internally, mentally, psychologically, emotionally, just wrestling with itself.
“What are we doing? What is our leader doing? Our leader is acting weirder and weirder by the night. Our leader is getting into it with his closest friend on the team, Tristan Thompson, who wants to fight our leader after Kevin Love makes the shot of the game to help us survive against a team in Indiana that just came in losing five out of its last six – including one win against the Sixers at home. That’s the team that we’re talking about right now.”
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“This is not a blip. This is a trend. They’re 21-19 in their last 40 games. That’s not very good. They’re a .500 team over 40 games. This team is now 19-19 on the road. 19-19? My Spurs are running away with the best road record [29-9]. Think about the disparity. ... These are terrible signs this late in the year. You can’t just flip that switch and say ‘Watch, here we go.’
“So this team is going to have to fight its way through either the Bulls or the Heat – I would love to see the Heat if [Dion] Waiters is right – that would be fun to watch. But the Bulls just beat up on the Cavaliers last Thursday night in Chicago when, once again, the Cavs can’t close. If Kyrie [Irving] can’t do it nobody can do it. And Kyrie’s in some slump funk right now. Again, it’s going to be Miami or Chicago, and it’s probably going to be Toronto – they got P.J. Tucker, who is sort of the designated LeBron defender. If Kyle Lowry comes back right I don’t know, it’s going to be a battle. It could go seven games, and then we know the Celtics are just getting more confident by the dribble because it’s a good basketball team that plays together, likes itself with a hot young coach who seems to push all the right buttons. It’s going to be hard to get through Boston. We’re going to get to see Cleveland go to Boston on a back-to-back tomorrow night – they got Orlando at home. I hope LeBron for his sake rests tonight.
“So your best player on the planet – quote, unquote – just played 52 minutes in a game on April 2, and he’s been complaining about not resting enough. Really, that guy? 52 minutes this late in the year is a bad sign. There’s nothing but bad signs over the last month; they lost 10 games in March. It’s just not cool. It’s not indicative of making a momentous run to the championship that you think they’re going to make and I just don’t think you can suddenly flip the switch and say ‘Here we go.’ ”
If they have LeBron, they're the favorites
“First of all my confidence on a scale of 1-10, and I wrote this down is a 9.99738. I didn’t want to give them a 10 because I knew you’d have something to say. They’ve lost 10 games in the month of March. The most games a team [that went on to win a title] has ever lost in the month of March is eight – the ’95 Houston Rockets. And what did they possess, Skip Bayless? [Hakeem Olajuwon] who was the best player in the NBA.
“Fast-forward, here we are at 2017. What do the Cleveland Cavaliers have on their roster that nobody else has? LeBron ‘The King of Akron’ James. As long as he’s on that roster, he shall be the favorite.”
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They're getting ready for the playoffs
“Kevin Love is starting to get his legs back – he played 37 minutes. He looked good. J.R. Smith is starting to find his rhythm, getting his legs back under him – he played almost 40 minutes. If you notice Ty Lue is starting to condense his bench. He’s starting to get in playoff mode. He’s not playing all these guys – Derrick Williams – he’s not playing a whole lot. Channing Frye is playing like 10 minutes, where he was up around 17 or 20.
“This is what LeBron does even when things are good, going really well – we got a four-point lead – LeBron is like [I] handled [the Tristian Thompson criticism] wrong. My heart was in a good place, but the words that came out were wrong and the time that came out. He’s coaching.”