Cavs a tired act; bring on the Celtics

San Francisco Chronicle - - NBA - Bruce Jenk­ins is a San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle colum­nist. Email: bjenk­ins@sfchron­i­cle.com Twitter @Bruce_Jenk­ins1

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.”

Darron Cum­mings / As­so­ci­ated Press

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.

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