For Cavaliers, reality of big game too much to bear

Apr 4, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward Tristan Thompson (13) is defended by Atlanta Hawks guard Kyle Korver (26) and center Pero Antic (6) during the first half at Philips Arena.

Dale Zanine/Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

This probably isn’t the best time to say this, but the Cavaliers are a better team than they were two months ago.

They’re probably not a playoff team — and after Friday’s 117-98 loss at Atlanta, they probably don’t deserve to be. Not this year.

They now trail the Hawks by three games for the eighth and final spot in the East, with a measly five games to play. And the Hawks own the tiebreaker. Basically, the Cavs could win out and still not make the playoffs.

Anyway, they played somewhat lazy, somewhat passionless basketball for too long Friday. Remember two or three weeks ago, when the offense consisted of a lot of standing around and a lot of wondering how the next basket might come? That was the Cavs on Friday.

And sadly, the offense wasn’t even the problem. Instead, the Cavs turned Hawks forward Mike Scott into the second coming of Dominique Wilkins. Scott is a nice player and all, but probably not as nice as the guy who erupted for 26 points on 12-of-13 shooting. Yeah, that’s how badly a second-year former second-round pick abused the Cavs.

Along with that, noted Cavs-killer Jeff Teague went for 20 points and 12 assists. That guy hears the Cavs are coming to town and immediately sees a big contract extension.

But there’s no sense reliving this one. The Hawks were great and deserve credit. The Cavs were something other than that. It was a disappointment. All you can do is dust off, and move on.

And I know you don’t want to hear it — but hey, it happens. The Cavs just aren’t ready for prime time. It’s tough to win big games when you don’t really have big-game experience. Now they do.

On top of those excuses (all of which are being made by nobody but Yours Truly), the Cavs were playing really well entering Friday. They were due for a bad night. And by golly, they got one. That’s just life in the big city. Or more accurately, life in big games in the big leagues.

You can’t take half a season off then try to stuff in wins at the end. The Cavs (31-46) know that now. It may be too late, and we don’t know who will return from this team next season. But it’s a lesson for everyone who does.

So what now?

Well, despite Friday’s massacre, the Cavs have done some nice things lately — and playoffs or no, it’s important to try to do them again. When your core consists of young dudes such as Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson, it’s all about building habits. May as well close the season trying to build some good ones. Sure beats the alternative, right?

Irving scored just 13 points Friday, well below his average. Then again, they were 13 more than the last time he was in this building.

Thompson took just three shots (finishing with eight points) and was held to a meager three rebounds. And Waiters scored 23, but struggled to 8-of-19 shooting.

None has played in this critical of an NBA game before, and it showed. You have to be better than your best in games like this, particularly on the road. The Cavs’ core may have learned that too late.

Overall, though, you can be fairly pleased if you’re a Cavs fan. This is a team that, overall, has played better at the end. Problem is, the Cavs were way too terrible for way too much of the beginning.

The Cavs have another game Saturday, at home, vs. Charlotte. All they can do is try to keep their dreams of a postseason miracle alive by winning everything in front of them.

They’re better, and that’s been fairly obvious. But they haven’t been good enough. That right there, folks, is the part that hurts.

Follow on Twitter @SamAmicoFSO