Some air has gone out of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ exuberance balloon. What had seemed like such a triumph at the NBA trade deadline for the defending Eastern Conference champions -- acquiring four intriguing players, sending out six whose contributions to that point in early February had been meager -- has flattened out, giddiness turning to guardedness.
The reason? Injuries.
With their drubbing by the Los Angeles Lakers Sunday night, the Cavaliers slipped to 6-6 since the trade day. There have been other issues as well -- the All-Star break interrupted and delayed the team’s learning curve with its new guys -- but for now, too many important players are hurt and those healthy enough to play have lugged bigger loads. Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com wrote about the unknowns that this all has foisted upon Cleveland’s push to get to a fourth consecutive Finals and LeBron James’ shot at an eighth straight trip:
"Listen, at the end of the day you've got to want the most out of whoever you've got on the floor," James said. "You want to get the most from whoever is playing, but sometimes you can't overcome this many injuries that we have. We have pretty much five guys out of our top nine or top 10 of our rotation not playing because of injuries. It's next man up, but sometimes you just fall short."
Cleveland was without Kevin Love (fractured left hand), Tristan Thompson (sprained right ankle), Rodney Hood (lower back strain) and Cedi Osman (left hip flexor) against the Lakers, leaving Cavs coach Tyronn Lue with no choice but to play seldom-used rookie center Ante Zizic and two-way contract player John Holland for significant minutes.
"Can you judge what we have on the floor?" James asked. "I mean you don't know. You don't know."
[Reserve Kyle] Korver, like James, did not want to label the Cavs at the moment.
"It's hard to gauge because we just have so many guys out," Korver said. "We're so low on big men right now. So when we're small, they're just kind of switching everything on us and we're not able to -- there's not a lot of movement out there for us. That's what makes basketball fun is when the ball is moving, bodies are moving and hopping.
"I think we're just missing some smiles out there on the court right now. It feels very serious. We're just kind of slugging it out. It'll help once we get some healthy bodies back. And there's not a lot of time, for sure."
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