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