- Darren Abate/AP
The Cleveland Cavaliers were no match for the San Antonio Spurs on Monday night, as Gregg Popovich’s squad rolled over LeBron James and the defending champs in a game so lopsided the entire fourth quarter essentially became garbage time.
The loss dropped the Cavs to 8-10 since the All-Star break. And it vaulted the Boston Celtics to the top of the Eastern Conference standings.
“That’s fine,” James said after the 103-74 blowout. “It matters more that we play better basketball than where we’re at. If that results in the one, two, or three seed, we need to play better basketball. That’s all it comes down to. I’m not worried about anything.”
Indeed, over the past six seasons (all six of which James has reached the Finals), James’ team has only twice entered the playoffs as the top seed in the east.
But the more immediately pressing concern, however, seems to be the simple fact that the Cavaliers look flat-out gassed.
“The crazy part about it – we start off the right way, but teams are so much faster than us,” head coach Tyronn Lue said after Monday’s loss. “They just look so much faster than we are. I mean, damn. It just looks like – just beat us on the dribble, transition, just looking faster.”
At the moment, James is currently second in the NBA in minutes, behind only Kyle Lowry. The question of resting star players during the final stretch of the regular season has become a hot topic in the NBA world recently, but James has not slowed down much. After all, it’s the fact that James is able to go to that extra gear and physically take over games that has made him unstoppable in the post-season.
Lue was asked about the issue of rest after the loss to the Spurs.
“It’s crossed my mind,” he said. “I don’t know, I might get in trouble. … I know a lot of guys are tired. With LeBron and Kyrie [Irving] having to carry the load, Kevin [Love] and JR [Smith] being out so long, they’re pretty worn down.”
“But that’s no excuse. A lot of other players are tired, too. When you’ve got one of the top-three point guards in the league and the best player in the world, that’s your job. You’re supposed to carry us and do what you’ve been doing.”
It’s true that the Cavs have hardly been at full strength this season. Love is expected to return shortly, Smith missed the bulk of the regular season, and against San Antonio on Monday both Kyle Korver and Iman Shumpert sat out. In general, the team’s second unit – Channing Frye, Richard Jefferson, and Derrick Williams – are simply not playing well enough to keep their team in games.
The defense, too, has been less than stellar.
Cavs haven’t held a team under 100 points on the road in the year 2017.
— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) March 28, 2017
LeBron admitted that his team looks worn out, though he added he personally feels as fresh as ever.
“That’s an individual question. But at the same time, yeah, we look a little slow vs. a lot of these teams,” James said. “It’s up to the individual where if you’re feeling a little slow, OK, you gotta get in better shape.”
“It sucks to say, ‘It’s March, you’re not in good shape.’ But you gotta get in even better shape against some of these teams that’s been plugging away all season long. I know from a personal standpoint, I feel great. I feel really good, actually.”
He may feel good, but in a showdown between MVP candidates on Monday night, Kawhi Leonard was better on both sides of the ball.
Here’s Leonard’s defensive prowess:
— NBA (@NBA) March 28,2017
And here he is blowing by James for the jam:
— NBA (@NBA) March 28,2017
The Cavaliers do not need the top seed in the East in order to enter the playoffs as the favorite to reach the Finals. But the Celtics, Wizards, and Raptors are not slouches, and heavy legs on a Cleveland squad full of veterans won’t do them any favors.
“I hate excuses. It’s not what I’m about. It’s never been what I’ve been about. I don’t like talk about injuries, I don’t like talking about the scheduling or things of that nature,” James said. “Listen, the schedule is the schedule. We got 17 games this month. We’ve been in six different time zones in the last eight days. We have to try to fight through it. If you’re going to have heavy legs, you’re going to have heavy legs. That’s why we have a group of 15.”
Added Lue: “We do have slow guys. And guys are tired. Games that we would normally try to get those guys some rest, it just hasn’t been happening. But I promise, we’re going to be fine. I’m not pressing. They know that, we know it. We just have to play better.”