Heading into the Cleveland Cavaliers’ game against New York Sunday, life seemed tranquil enough for the team and its resident superstar LeBron James to reflect on the night as the 14th anniversary of James’ NBA debut (Oct. 29, 2003 ,at Sacramento). By the end of the evening, though, they were flashing back to the rookie James for the wrong season: It had been that long, in April 2004, that a James team had dropped three consecutive games against opponents that didn’t qualify for the playoffs the season before.
* Recap: Knicks 114, Cavaliers 95
The Cavs, at 3-4, are experiencing more than minor hiccups as they react to injuries and adapt to new personnel. Against the Knicks, as ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin reports, Cleveland suffered from serious defensive breakdowns:
“Tonight’s loss and the last couple are unacceptable, and the only way we’re going to be able to get out of it is to put the work in — as players, as coaches,” Lue said. “And we’re going to do that. … When you lose to teams the way we’ve been getting beat, it’s unacceptable.”
Cleveland has lost four of its past five games by an average of 16.8 points per defeat. It isn’t just the losses but also the caliber of opponent that is alarming.
It’s not that the three-time defending Eastern Conference champion Cavs are struggling against the Golden States and Houstons of the world. The current stretch of bad basketball has come against Orlando, Brooklyn, New Orleans and New York.
“Guys are just scoring at will against us. Our defense is pretty bad right now. So that’s the number one thing,” James said after the Knicks put four players in double figures, led by Tim Hardaway Jr.’s 34 points and Kristaps Porzingis’ 32.
New York, which came into the game averaging just 4.5 fast-break points per game, outscored the Cavs 13-4 in transition. The Knicks also torched Cleveland from outside, hitting 13-for-28 from beyond the arc (46.4).
The Cavs are allowing 109.8 points per 100 possessions this season, the making them the second worst team in defensive efficiency in the Eastern Conference, ahead of only the Nets.
“Teams just look faster than we do at every position,” Lue said. “They’re running fast, they’re spreading, they’re pushing the ball up the floor. It’s like we can’t keep up.”
“Our transition defense is pretty bad,” James concurred. “I mean, I think everything defensively.”
The offense hasn’t been too hot, either. Cleveland shot 38.3 percent from the field as a team Sunday. It was the second time they failed to crack 40 percent from the field during a home game this season. Last year, they didn’t reach their second sub-40 percent game at Quicken Loans Arena until Christmas, according to Elias.
The Cavs have Monday off and will spend the evening together at James’ annual Halloween party, complete with costumes, music, drinks and dancing.
Then they’ll try to get back on track Wednesday, when they host the Indiana Pacers, another supposed Eastern Conference cellar dweller that might not be an easy out, considering the way the Pacers upset the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday. Whatever happens against the Pacers, the Cavs have put themselves behind the eight ball. According to ESPN’s BPI, New York marked the fifth game of a six-game stretch that is Cleveland’s easiest six-game stretch of the season. Now the best Cleveland can hope is to split those cupcakes.
“What is this? October? I’m not about to go crazy over it right now,” James said. “It’s too long of a season, and I’ve been a part of this too many times, so I’m the wrong guy to ask. I’m too positive right now.
“All it takes is a win. That’s all it takes.”
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