Dissecting the chances that the Cleveland Cavaliers can repeat as champions.
SAN ANTONIO — The paint wasn’t even dry yet on the latest Cleveland Cavaliers shellacking when the first sign of desperation appeared.
Ty Lue, Cavs coach and resident spokesman for the NBA’s fledgling defending champs, had to answer all those questions yet again about why his team had spent the past 12 weeks looking utterly pedestrian. This one was uglier than most, a 103-74 loss to the San Antonio Spurs that was over by halftime and may have qualified as the worst possible NBA Finals preview in the modern era. And so, while pondering all the factors that led his team to this puzzling point on the night that they lost a grip on the top seed in the Eastern Conference, Lue made it clear that no possible solution is too extreme.
When asked if he would consider resting his players for several games near the end of the season, an idea he gleaned from his time with the Los Angeles Clippers’ Doc Rivers during their time coaching together with the Boston Celtics, Lue didn’t demur.
“I don’t know Jason. I might get in trouble,” he said to The Athletic’s Jason Lloyd, who posed the question in the group media setting. “So I don’t know. Well yeah, we’ll see. We’ll talk about it. I know a lot of guys are tired, and you know with Kyrie (Irving) and with LeBron (James) having to carry the load with Kevin (Love) and J.R. (Smith) being out so long and having to do so much, they’re pretty worn down.”
From Lue on down, the Cavs are confounded — even when it comes to the inspiration of the idea itself.
While Rivers has spoken often about how he prioritized health over playoff seeding for the final month of the 2009-10 regular season, the truth when it comes to rest is that his Big Three at the time — Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen — only sat for the final game. Boston entered the playoffs as the fourth seed, then eventually fell to the Los Angeles Lakers in the Finals.
These current-day Cavs know the truth of the matter, how they’ve been playing so much bad basketball since starting the season 28-8 (19-18 since) and defending with all the force of a feather on so many nights (29th in defensive rating during that stretch; 23rd for the season). Yet as James indicated afterward, their problems go deeper than rest.
“I know from a personal standpoint, I feel great,” said James, who had 17 points, eight rebounds and eight assists and didn’t play in the fourth quarter after taking a hit to the neck from the Spurs’ David Lee. “I feel really good, actually.
“The way we’ve been struggling, this is the last team that you want to play. A well-oiled machine like this, they exploit everything that you’re not doing well at that point in time in the season, and right now we’re just not playing good basketball. So we’ll figure it out. I’m still confident in the bunch. I’m confident that we can turn things around. But right now, it’s not frustrating, it’s just something you’ve got to figure out. As a veteran ball club, and as a group that wants to do something special — again.”
At this rate, with the Celtics having passed them by a half-game and every reason to believe that this struggle is as real as it gets, James didn’t sound like someone who saw extended rest as the answer.
“I don’t know,” he said when asked about Lue’s idea. “Coach is going to have his logic of things. But at the end of the day we need to play. Just if we could get everybody back, which is going to be very tough. Obviously Shump (Iman Shumpert) just had the (knee) injury (that has caused him to miss two consecutive games), Kyle (Korver) is probably going to be out a couple of games (with a left foot injury) I believe, getting Kev (Kevin Love) back from knee surgery (seven games ago after a month-long absence), and things of that nature.
“But if guys are having heavy legs, then they should go to coach and say they may need one. Or if it’s a — we’ve got two days now, so we shouldn’t have heavy legs on Thursday (against the Chicago Bulls). But if it’s an opportunity, guys should take it. But I’m OK.”
As for the Cavs on the whole? Not so much.
Follow Sam Amick on Twitter @sam_amick.