Dribbles: Cavs Walking Postseason Tightrope After Discouraging Loss To Bulls

CLEVELAND — Random dribbles following the Cavaliers’ 98-94 toughie of a home loss to the Bulls on Saturday.

1. Well, it’s safe to say it is gut-check time for the young Cavaliers. They are now in 7th place in the Eastern Conference. Had they won, they would have been tied for fifth. But that’s just life in the East this season.

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2. So, eight games left. For the Cavs (41-33), the playoffs have already started.

3. Or actually, the Cavs should approach it as if every game is the play-in tournament — as if every loss from here on out means they go home. That’s not actually the case. But the Cavs should pretend it is.

4. They came out in incredibly flat in this one, scoring just 35 points in the first half. They gave it everything they had in the final two quarters — but those first two were just too much to overcome.

5. This is typically how it goes in the NBA. Young teams generally fade after the All-Star break. Veteran teams generally rise.

6. For those of you who are new to this, that’s not my opinion. That’s NBA history. See the 1988-89 Cavs of Brad Daugherty, Mark Price, Larry Nance and coach Lenny Wilkens as just one of hundreds of examples.

7. Either way, it’s not meant as an insult to today’s Cavs. They have already proven the future is presumably very bright. We all knew they weren’t winning a title this year. But they gave themselves hope of a much better seed heading into the playoffs. The fact they may not get one would be the lone (and very minor) disappointment.

8. As Daugherty said during the Bally Sports Ohio broadcast, “These experiences are tough, but it’s a great teaching opportunity.”

9. Coach J.B. Bickerstaff probably would have preferred the win. He probably wished he could save the teaching for training camp in October. But as Daugherty added, “Young basketball team. They’re gonna learn.”

10. And sometimes, young teams often have to learn the hard way.

11. Again, it doesn’t hurt that the Cavs still don’t have Jarrett Allen. They really gave up a lot of baskets inside when the “help-side” defender failed to help. Allen is one person who almost never fails in that area. 

12. Offering a sliver of hope, Bickerstaff said before the game that Allen is “able to do some things” on the court. So perhaps a return is not far off.

13. Darius Garland did all he could to try to keep the Cavs in it, as the majority of the offense fizzled around him. Garland finished with 28 points, constantly attacking the basket and taller Bulls defenders, just to make things interesting.

14. He made it really interesting by drawing a foul on a 3-point attempt with 6.7 seconds left and the Cavs down five. Sadly, he only made one of the free throws. But you can’t fault Garland. That play alone was merely a prayer.

15. Caris LeVert got the start and was better in the second half than the first, scoring 17 points. Lauri Markkanen added 14 and Lamar Stevens had 13. 

16. Overall, the Cavs were a miserable 5-of-21 shooting on 3-pointers. When you take that many threes, and make that few, you really put yourself in a bad position.

17. If the play-in tournament were held today, the Cavs would get to play Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and the Nets, the current eighth seed.

18. Translation: Thank heavens the play-in tournament isn’t today.

19. Bickerstaff on the loss: “They’re all teaching moments for us. We have to be realistic through the frustrations, the disappointments. That first half, we put ourselves in such a hole. … We allowed them to keep pushing, pushing, pushing. In that first half, at no point did we push back and stand our ground. … Reality is, we’ve got young guys who are trying to figure it out.”

20. Now, before everyone hangs their heads, the Cavs host the Magic in two nights. The Raptors (42-32), who are one spot of Cleveland, have to play the Celtics and Timberwolves in their next two games.

21. Of course, none of that matters — or only matters a very little bit. The Cavs just need to handle their own business. But now, they’ll need some help to avoid the play-in.

22. Zach LaVine led the Bulls (43-31) with 25 points, and DeMar DeRozan killed the Cavs from the mid-range, scoring 20.

23. So, bottom line: Eight games, and anything can happen. It’s up to the Cavs now on how it plays out from here.

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  1. The biggest disappointment is the veterans are fading as fast as the young players. Love and Cedi have faded with Cedi being benched for the extremely limited Windler in such an important game. The front office will have to make a couple critical moves to keep up with the improved east in the off-season. Sexton may be the center of the offseason talks.

  2. I’m fairly sure you meant to say it doesn’t HELP rather than hurt, but you ARE right, It doesn’t help. “Again, it doesn’t hurt that the Cavs still don’t have Jarrett Allen”.
    & I DO enjoy your reporting & reading your optimistic take on things, wish I completely shared all that too. Anyway, I earlier mentioned in a comment, that there was a “slide” coming & it is here. I’m sorry too that Bik sees this as a “teaching moment”…. It’s WAY past that teaching time. They’ve had tape after tape to see that Garland, who does have his fantastic moments, young as he is, has become SO PREDICTABLE. – Walking, walking, & walking the ball up the court while very behind the other team, then, stopping to play cat & mouse with the defender, burning much more clock, then, with 5-6 seconds left start breaking right side of the lane, only to get collapsed on & throw up a brick, lob, or a last second pass to someone who is already mesmerized with the dribbling, now has 8 tenths of a second to get the shot off. Or it goes out of bounds, or off a Cav’s chest (as he did to Stevens game before last)
    He’s IS successful enough to pick up 25-30 points during the game, but burns so much clock when behind & stops ball & player movement stops too, much like LeBron did. Tiresome now. When it was earlier in the season, players were moving, ball was moving, now offense stagnates & points too. results-losses. This should’ve been stopped by coaching long ago–teaching moment was about 3-4 weeks ago. Mesmerizing your 4 teammates & eating clock is taking too much on yourself as talented as Darius is, & he is, IT’S STILL A TEAM SPORT. Passing the ball earlier in the clock, moving with speed not walking, this all lets the defense easily & predict everything. I want to scream–SOMEBODY WAKE UP THE CAVS. Stevens & Okoro Improving & trying hard. Hope CAVs can change a lot, & Levert to me, has NOT impressed–has “fumble-itis”,,, settle down.

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