Random dribbles following the Cavaliers’ 115-101 road loss to the Miami Heat on Saturday.
1. Let’s be honest here — the Cavs have gone from the Little Team That Could to the Little Team That Never Can. They have now lost five straight.
2. If you want excuses, oh, we have a few for you. For starters, the Cavs have been without center Jarrett Allen and power forward Larry Nance Jr. Compared to the rest of the team, Allen and Nance are Bill Russell and Hakeem Olajuwon defensively.
3. That’s because the Cavs’ defense, by and large, simply stinks. Part of that is understandable. Their key players are awfully young. The other part makes little sense, because the Cavs did so well on that end to start of the season. That can’t all be the result of the since-departed Andre Drummond
4. Translation: The Cavs aren’t defending as well because they aren’t as interested in doing so.
5. Coach J.B. Bickerstaff will talk about the Cavs’ scrap and grit, and it used to be something in which he took pride for entire games. Now, he’s lucky to get it for a half. But if/when it finally shows , it’s usually much too late.
6. As I wrote in the previous Dribbles, losing tends to bring out the worst in a team. It usually results in finger-pointing, unnecessary drama and maybe your best players wanting out. Heck, in today’s NBA, it’s hard enough to keep guys content when they are winning.
7. LeBron James reached four straight Finals with the Miami Heat … and left. Then he made four straight with the Cavs … and left. Kevin Durant made three straight with the Golden State Warriors, and also left. Kawhi Leonard won a title with the Toronto Raptors, then did the same.
8. This isn’t meant to criticize any of those players. The NBA has long been a league of stars. And today’s stars like to bounce around. Free agency offers them that right. But to everyone who buys the Cavs’ cries that another lottery pick will save the day, you may want to consider a little bit of history.
9. The lesson: If the organization does everything it can to win every game, and stay as drama-free as possible, players will be more opt to give you a longer run. But if there’s an acceptance of losing just to draft another guy who plays your position, well, it doesn’t make you want to remain in that situation for very long.
10. Yes, guys can still leave when they win. But they tend not to do it as much if you make your franchise someplace they want to be.
11. As for the game, there’s no shame in losing to the defending Eastern Conference champions in their own building. And the Heat do offer a nice blueprint. When I once asked a free agent who joined Miami if he wanted to go there because of the weather and beaches, he laughed in my face. “Nah, man,” he said. “(Heat president) Pat Riley. He don’t tank.”
12. Basically, it’s bad to be bad in this league. Literally anyone can do it and say it’s all part of some grand plan. But it’s not wise to keep doing it. That often just sets you up for more losing … year after thankless year. You can’t build a winning culture when you never win.
13. Collin Sexton scored 26 points to lead the Cavs. Sexton is a keeper, but most were empty baskets that had little bearing on the outcome on this night. Taurean Prince returned from a shoulder injury to score 19. Rookie Isaac Okoro tallied a career-high 17. Darius Garland scored 12 and passed for eight assists, before getting ejected with 1:47 left for arguing about a blocking foul that was actually the correct call.
14. The Cavs (17-32) seem to be getting worse. Injuries to their two best defenders are partially responsible. But it’s more than that. Those in uniform haven’t been playing with the same determination that was on display earlier this season. Why is that? No one seems to ask, and certainly nobody has offered any real answers.