CLEVELAND — It’s serious business time for the Cavaliers, and it’s fair to ask if they yet have a true identity.
The short answer is no. Not as much of one as they’d like anyway.
But they are getting closer to being the team they say they are, the force they believe they can still become.
It may sound strange to imply a team with a 48-19 record is suffering from an identity crisis and is something other than a juggernaut.
Then again, this is a different season. Everyone is comparing the Cavs to the Warriors and Spurs. And right now, neither of those teams has a match.
The Warriors and Spurs are unbeatable at home. They’re blowing opponents out of just about any arena — home or road. Both teams are making a push for 70 (or more) wins.
The Cavs, on the other hand, are just winning.
And when they lose, it’s often presented as some sort of a major malfunction — as if the Cavs are somehow in disarray because they got beat. Truth is, losing rarely happens. It just happens a little more often than it does to the two powers out West.
With 15 games remaining, the Cavs lead the Raptors by 2.5 games for first place in the Eastern Conference. LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are healthy. In fact, so is every other key member of the roster.
Last season, the Cavs finished on 32-9 tear — but they still didn’t gain the top seed heading into the playoffs. They won the East anyway. They did it without Love for all but three games of the postseason. They did it with a hobbled Irving at about 40 percent (and zero percent in the final five games of the Finals).
This year, the Cavs are in a much better spot. But because of the success of the Warriors and Spurs, everyone on the outside seems to behave as if the Cavs are playing for third.
Why? Because they’re not getting it done any certain way. They don’t always do it with defense. They don’t always do it with grace. They don’t always do it with great ball movement. They don’t always do it by large margins. And sometimes, they struggle with — or even lose to –considerably inferior opponents.
Those are real drawbacks, and they shouldn’t be ignored. But they’re also things that can be overcome when it means the most.
Are the Cavs as good as the Warriors and Spurs right now? No.
Do they only need to be better than one of them for a couple of weeks in June? That’s really all that matters.
"Just get me to the playoffs," James has been known to say. In fact, he spoke those very words last year, when the Cavs started 19-20 and lacked anything resembling unity.
Well, LeBron and the Cavs got to the playoffs. And they emerged from the East in spite of all the (alleged) drama.
Anyway, back to their identity.
What type of team are they under new coach Tyronn Lue? To what do they turn when things seems bleak? How will they ever beat the Warriors or Spurs, without home court-advantage, in a seven-game series?
Today, those questions aren’t so easy to answer.
That’s why the Cavs have some things to still figure out in these final three weeks of the regular season. But if this year is anything like last, they will.
It’s all that mattered before and it’s all that will matter again.