Dribbles: Latest Loss, Lousy Stretch Show It’s Soul-Searching Time For Cavs

CLEVELAND — Random dribbles following the Cavaliers’ 119-98 disappointment of a home loss to the Hornets on Wednesday.

1. Let’s start with this: Undoubtedly, this was the Cavs’ worst loss of the season. At home, against a team that had been struggling, and Darius Garland had returned.

Darius Garland
Jason Miller/Getty

2. Under most circumstances, you can just brush it off. Every NBA team plays a crummy home game. But for the Cavs, it’s bigger than that. 

3. First and foremost, young teams tend to fade at the end of the season. This is backed by NBA history, not just a random opinion. Rookies hit walls, veteran opponents get more physical, and in the case of the Cavs, everyone starts to take you more seriously.

4. Those things alone can be problematic for the Cavs. Throw in the fact their defense has really been letting them down lately, and … well, and you get nights like Wednesday.

5. Is this reason for panic? Hardly. Is it a bad sign? You’d better believe it.

6. Worse, the Cavs keep getting down by 20 points, and at home. That’s a lot to overcome, especially when it happens every time you play.

7. As coach J.B. Bickerstaff said after the game, this isn’t the first troubling later-season stretch for a younger team. He said, in short, that perhaps the Cavs started to believe their press clippings. Now, they’ve been knocked from that pedestal, having lost five of their last six.

8. Bickerstaff on the state of things: “It’s one of those things where, if you look at the big picture and the entire process, being a young team that’s still trying to figure out how to win in this league, every patch of games is a new learning experience. Every test and challenge is a new test and new challenge.”

9. The Cavs, Bickerstaff added, have seemingly lost their scrap.

10. More Bickerstaff: “We still believe. But the hardest thing is to replicate and sustain success. If some of these losses bring us back to our fight and our scrap, then this is a good thing.”

11. He also touched on the fact he was thrown out of the game after receiving two quick techinals in the third quarter. Bickerstaff gave the refs the business after a blocking call on Cedi Osman.

12. The coach apologized to his team after the game. “That’s on me,” Bickerstaff said of the ejection. “Need to improve and be better. I need to stay in the fight.”

13. Garland came back with a bang, scoring 33 points and giving the Cavs at least a little life. But that was about the lone highlight. And even Garland committed seven turnovers, compared to his four assists.

14. Defensively, it seems a major issue is the rotation. The Cavs are finding the opposing first and second options just fine — but have been fairly slow in finding the opposing third option, who too often is wide open.

15. If we can see it, you’d better believe Bickerstaff and the Cavs can in the film room. 

16. Jarrett Allen had a nice game with 18 points and 11 rebounds. Lauri Markkanen added 12 points, but went just 3-of-10 shooting. Everyone else was just sort of out there, struggling, trying to get something going, and mostly coming up short in that department.

17. Shaker Height product and noted Cavs killer Terry Rozier scored 29 points to lead the Hornets (31-33). Surprisingly, All-Star guard LaMelo Ball got into foul trouble and played just eight minutes — and Charlotte still did whatever it wanted.

18. OK, let’s end with a dose of positive thoughts: The Cavs are 36-26. They have 20 games left. If they can go even 9-11 the rest of the way, they finish 45-37. That will make them playoff-bound. (Or yes, potentially play-in game bound.) But that’s still about 15 wins more than most anyone expected them to get at the start of the year.

19. Mostly, we do have to remember that the core of this team is incredibly young. The Cavs are far from racing against some clock. There is room for improvement, less injuries and bringing this roster back in almost its entirety next season.

20. Translation: The present has gotten rocky, yes, without a doubt. But the future? Yeah, that remains bright.

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