Cavaliers receive lesson in small-market success

Mar 4, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving (2) defends San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker (9) as power forward Tim Duncan (21) looks to pass in the second quarter at Quicken Loans Arena.

David Richard/David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

CLEVELAND — It’s hard to know what to say about a game like that.

You can start by admitting the visiting San Antonio Spurs are just better than the Cavaliers — and proved it for all but one quarter of a 122-101 tanning of the Cavs’ hides on Tuesday.

The loss drops the Cavs four games out of the final playoff spot with 20 to go.

Good luck with that one, kids.

But sometimes you just have to tip your cap to the other guy, the smarter guy, the guy who has been playing the right way for a very long time.

For the past 15 years, that guy has been the Spurs.

"Stability," was the first word Cavs coach Mike Brown used to describe the Spurs’ run of successes, which includes four titles and five Finals appearances. With basketball artifacts such as Tim Duncan (age 37) and Manu Ginobili (36), and even Tony Parker (31), the Spurs probably should have been done in 2009.

Instead, coach Gregg Popovich and his troops just keep making fools of dudes.

The Spurs may not always assist on a remarkable 39 of 43 baskets, as they did Tuesday, but they sure do always try.

"They’ve played the way they played (Tuesday) for many years," Brown said.

The Spurs move the ball, they spread you out, and the result is "a nice rhythm shot," according to Brown. And, man, he’s right on the money with that one.

Believe it or not, the Cavs (24-38) weren’t awful. But one thing that was perhaps more evident than ever: How much less disciplined they were than the opponent. While the Spurs quickly move the ball to the open man and take uncontested jumpers, the Cavs still often settled for dribbling and dribbling and dribbling some more. Then they usually heaved up some sort of closely defended shot.

Assuming the Cavs don’t win at least half of their final 20, which is likely what it will take to see the postseason, they have to spend the offseason figuring out how to get the most out of Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters.

Both did a nice job Tuesday, Irving scoring 24 with six assists, Waiters going for 24 points in his first game back from a hyperextended knee.

Also, Spencer Hawes (20 points, 13 rebounds) continued to turn himself into a prime free-agent target (for the Cavs and for everyone) when his contract expires this offseason. But other than Hawes, Irving and Waiters, the Cavs were just sort of out there.

Spurs top Cavs 122-101

It’s hard to define why, but that sort of standing around and observing has happened too often this season. The Cavs’ culture isn’t horrid — or at least it doesn’t seem to be anymore. But it sure could use a consistent pick-me-up.

Until that comes along, you can expect more of the same.

And there’s no way to really tell what can fix these issues. It may be yet another roster change, another coaching change, a change in the front office or maybe another stab at the draft. Who knows? Perhaps devoted owner Dan Gilbert will decide all are in order.

All we really know is the Cavs sure can’t continue to travel down this road, because it just stinks.

If the small-market Spurs have figured out a way to sustain being a contender, then there really are few excuses. As NBA commissioner Adam Silver has said repeatedly, every "well-managed" team will have a chance.

Yes, the Spurs are proof, and yes, the Cavs can get there.

But sadly, the way the Spurs performed Tuesday made the Cavs seem oh-so far away. Maybe further away than they really are, but maybe not.

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