Cavs a tired act; bring on the Celtics
The Warriors’ 73-win season became something of a footnote two years ago when Golden State failed to win the championship, but it stood for something. In the great tradition of Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls and Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics, to cite a couple of epic dynasties, there was never a great mystery about what to expect. Fans were treated to passion, hustle and a fierce desire to win, every single night.
That’s a tough thing to repeat. Today’s Warriors come pretty close to that penthouse quality, with most of their pitfalls related to injuries. The Cleveland Cavaliers are down in the basement, fumbling pitifully in search of themselves.
On Monday in Cleveland, we get the latest episode in this long-standing rivalry. Is there a Finals rematch ahead? Four straight years of this? Good grief, let’s hope not. It’s time for new blood, namely the Boston Celtics, in the Eastern Conference.
Is it really that difficult to give an all-out defensive effort whenever you take the floor? Shooting performances come and go, but defense can be a constant, with Draymond Green, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson offering shining examples on the Warriors’ end.
The Cavaliers haven’t played tough defense for weeks — since the last time they faced Golden State, as it turns out. They surged into that Christmas Day game on a 19-2 run, but took a 99-92 loss to a team playing without Stephen Curry. Now they’ve lost seven of their past nine, beating only Orlando (which racked up 127 points in defeat) and Portland.
LeBron James has called his team “fragile,” and while everyone expects the Cavs to rebound — they always do — this is the league’s oldest team with some serious fissures in the blueprint.
Coach Tyronn Lue has referred to certain unnamed Cavs playing with “agendas,” and while his meaning wasn’t clear, there’s no denying that his team is conspicuously short on two-way players. The Warriors’ greatness is built around stars who share the ball, move purposefully without it, and play strong defense. Examine everyone but LeBron on the Cavs’ roster — including Isaiah Thomas, who recently returned to the lineup — and there’s a weakness.
The Celtics have their issues, as well, but they really get after it. Superbly coached by Brad Stevens, they never let up on defense — and the ascent of their young players, notably Jaylen Brown and Rookie of the Year candidate
Jayson Tatum, has made them a treat to watch.
Brown had some pointed comments in The Guardian during the Celtics’ recent trip to London. “Why not this year?” he said. “People say maybe we’ll be good in two years, but I think we’re good now. We’ve got one of the best records in the league (34-10, best in the East, with a sevengame lead over Cleveland). I think we could be as good as we want to be. But the more we let people construct our mind-set, and start saying two years from now, is the moment we lose.”
We’ll join the ex-Cal standout in another vote for now.
Around the NBA
Lou Williams poured in 50 points for the Clippers on Wednesday night in Oakland, and it was no accident. He started that game but he’s mostly a sixth man, with eight games of 30-plus points coming off the bench. Could he make the All-Star team? It’s a pretty strong crowd among Western Conference shooting guards, including Devin Booker, Donovan Mitchell, CJ McCollum, Eric Gordon, Jimmy Butler and Thompson, but Williams is richly deserving.
Things that don’t bother the Warriors: Houston hoisting a ridiculous 54 three-pointers against Chicago (the Rockets don’t get it, and they never will), and LaMarcus Aldridge’s revival in San Antonio. Coach Gregg Popovich admitted being “silly” and “holding him back” by asking too much of Aldridge, but it centered around a one-on-one meeting after Aldridge’s summertime request to be traded. Asking to leave Popovich’s program shows a distinct lack of character (“nobody ever said that to me,” the coach said), and it’s a label that has hounded Aldridge in the past.
LaVar Ball wanted some attention when he blamed coach Luke Walton for the Lakers’ recent malaise, and he got it. Reggie Miller went on the “Dan Patrick Show” to declare, “This is a time for (executive) Magic Johnson to put his foot down and tell LaVar, ‘If you keep opening your mouth, we’re going to trade your son.’ ” ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said the Lakers’ silence indicated “the Lakers do not have unconditional support for Luke” and hinted they might pursue David Fizdale, fired six weeks ago in Memphis. The view from here: The Lakers are fine with Walton, they would gain nothing by engaging the blowhard dad, and the commotion will cease, especially with Lonzo Ball playing magnificently and the team on the upswing.
Remarkable contrast on Thursday: ESPN’s “The Jump,” easily the NBA’s best studio show, focused heavily on Commissioner Adam Silver, who has refused to negotiate television coverage of the upcoming All-Star draft (in which two captains pick the teams, regardless of conference). That’s a hot-button issue and Silver doesn’t have the first clue how enjoyable (for everyone) such a telecast would be.
Come nightfall, we found TNT’s “Inside the NBA” camped out in Las Vegas, serenaded by a hack lounge-act band and planted inside the CES convention for next-generation innovations. Shamelessly selling out, the TNT crew hawked some of the products, complete with websites, and didn’t get around to basketball talk for 27 minutes (was there festive eating? You bet). This is fast becoming the worst show on television, closing in on “Fun Facts About Sludge.”
LeBron James and coach Tyronn Lue have led Cleveland to three straight Finals, but the Cavaliers don’t get after it on defense the way Eastern Conference-leading Boston does.