The Cleveland Cavaliers opened the season in a 5-7 funk of sorts. Time may have passed since then, but to star forward LeBron James, the Cavs are right back where they once were.
Cleveland was dismantled in Toronto last night, falling 133-99 to the Raptors in what was the both the Cavs' most lopsided loss of 2017-18 and the third straight game in which they allowed at least 127 points.
The effort did not seem to be there for the Cavs all game long, as the Raptors outrebounded the Cavs 63-35 and outscored their bench 76-48. And, Toronto did all this without Serge Ibaka (suspension) and All-Star Kyle Lowry (back).
The Cavaliers have dropped six of eight dating to a Christmas Day defeat at defending champion Golden State. After the game, coach Tyronn Lue issued a challenge of sorts to his team, writes Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com:
"We've got to be better," Lue said after the Cavs lost for the seventh time in the past 10 games. "We know that. But until we play better defensively, I think offensively sharing the basketball, everyone on the same page -- and if guys have agendas, we've got to get rid of our agendas and play the right way."
Asked what he meant by "agendas," Lue declined to elaborate, saying he meant "just what I said."
Cleveland's players couldn't really disagree with Lue, as Isaiah Thomas, Kevin Love, Dwyane Wade and others talked about what Cleveland needs to fix going forward:
"The biggest thing that I see we're not doing, we're not playing for each other right now, offensively and defensively," said Isaiah Thomas, who suffered through a brutal game Thursday, shooting 2-of-15. "Defensively everybody's on an island playing defense by themselves. Offensively it's a lot of one-on-one, no ball movement. It's things we can fix, that's the good thing about it, we just have to do it and we have to do it now. You can lose games, but you can't get blown out. With how good we really are, we can't allow these types of games to happen."
Dwyane Wade said: "Sometimes you get in a slump, guys start worrying about me, me, me."
"You have to play for each other on both ends of the floor," Wade said. "If you're into yourself on the offensive end, if you're struggling, then you're not doing what you need to do defensively and vice versa."
"We've got a lot of vets on this team," Love said. "If there are agendas, I don't see it. But I'm sure whoever he's speaking of or speaking to with that, he'll address it, as we usually do."
In his pregame address with the media on Thursday, James did not sound too worried about the Cavs' struggles of late, saying "this is just us during the regular season." He seemed to change that stance a bit after Thursday's loss, though, and clarified what happened when TNT's cameras caught James in a heated discussion with Cleveland player development coach Phil Handy.
"We're in a funk," James said. "Once again we're back to the beginning of the season. Just got to find a way to get out of it. It's going to start with us and just everybody getting back to what we were doing when we were playing good ball. But we're so fragile. I don't know where it kind of went wrong or what happened to switch back, but we've got to try to pick it back up and find it."
Frustration seemed to boil over for the Cavs in the first quarter Thursday, when TNT cameras captured James in a heated discussion with Cleveland player development coach Phil Handy during a timeout.
"Just us trying to figure it out," James said, explaining the exchange. "It's not for everybody. We came in here and talked about it, and that's what happens at times. Family's not always about a bed of roses."
The Cavaliers visit the Pacers tonight (7 ET, NBA League Pass) and are seeking their first win against a team over .500 since a Jan. 2 home win against the Portland Trail Blazers. Cleveland is 3-7 in its last 10 games and 10-10 overall this season against teams over .500.