CLEVELAND — After falling down by as many as 27 points en route to a 103-80 blowout loss on Sunday to the Detroit Pistons — a team that came into the game with the fourth-worst record in the league — LeBron James did not sugarcoat the current state of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“We’re not a very good team,” James said after the defeat dropped the Cavs to 18-12. “As far as on the court, we’re still trying to find our way as well. We’ve won some good games, we’ve lost some games. But right now, we’re just not very good in every aspect of the game that we need to be to compete every night.”
It has become a common refrain for James. Following the Cavs’ Christmas Day loss to the Miami Heat, he echoed the sentiment, saying, “We’re not that good right now.” The next day, after a comeback win over the Orlando Magic, James said Cleveland was playing “nowhere near championship ball.”
It was so bad against Detroit that the Cavs were booed off the court by their hometown fans during a third-quarter timeout amid the Pistons outscoring Cleveland 86-52 over the final three quarters. Despite being 11-6 overall at Quicken Loans Arena this season, the Cavs’ past three home losses have all come by 17 points or more — albeit the previous two routs were at the hands of the Toronto Raptors and Atlanta Hawks, the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in the East, respectively.
“I can’t tell you what it was,” Kevin Love said. “We need to play better in front of our home crowd, home fans, and it’s just unacceptable.”
Cavs coach David Blatt said his team let its guard down after building a 15-point lead early in the second quarter.
Right now, we’re just not very good in every aspect of the game that we need to be to compete every night.
– LeBron James after Cavs’ home blowout loss to Pistons
“I thought we started extremely well but we lost our energy and we lost our competitiveness, and that shouldn’t happen,” Blatt said.
It’s becoming a trend for the Cavs, who have had a handful of games this season in which they’ve forged ahead by double digits early, only to come away with a loss by the end.
“I think when you do build leads early on like we have, it shows that you’re coming prepared, that you’re ready to play, that you’re ready for the other team,” Blatt said. “But when you’re losing those leads, it also shows that we’re not putting our foot down on our opponent and taking them out. That’s a skill, too, to understand that you can’t give people the opportunity in this league just to get out and play freely because you have a lead.”
Blatt accepted some of the blame for not stemming the tide when Detroit made its run Sunday.
“There’s a lot of different things you can do, but I obviously didn’t succeed in any one of them,” Blatt said.
However, James dismissed a question asking if the loss was a learning experience not only for the Cavs’ players but also specifically for Blatt, who is in his first season coaching in the NBA after an accomplished career overseas.
“I’m not answering you, man,” James said. “Don’t try that.”
The Cavs must try to protect the ball better moving forward after coughing up 18 turnovers against the Pistons, leading to 21 points for Detroit.
“I thought that we were careless, very careless, with the ball,” Blatt said. “If you look at our team, in particular that stat, it’s very telling as to not only the result but how we play.”
James was the biggest culprit, accumulating seven turnovers Sunday to increase his career-high average of 3.7 turnovers per game this season. Cleveland is 3-4 this season when James has five turnovers or more in a game.
“I was very careless tonight with the ball,” James admitted. “I had a couple of unforced turnovers.”
Hurting them in the ballhandling department was the fact that Kyrie Irving was out for a second straight game with a left knee contusion after hyperextending his knee against Miami. The Cavs initially avoided having the fourth-year guard undergo an MRI on the knee but have since administered the test, which confirmed the knee contusion Irving has been dealing with since Dec. 11, when he originally suffered the injury in Oklahoma City. Blatt said he “hopes” Irving will be able to play Tuesday in Atlanta, but Love suggested postgame Irving could still miss a game or two. Irving did not speak to reporters Sunday.
Irving is averaging 20.2 points on a career-high 47 percent shooting this season, along with 5.3 assists per game. Cavs backup point guards Matthew Dellavedova and A.J. Price combined for five points on 1-for-11 shooting, 5 rebounds and 10 assists against the Pistons. The Cavs are also now 1-2 since Anderson Varejao went out with a season-ending left Achilles tear, which required surgery.
“We’re going through a few things right now,” Blatt said. “We lost some pretty important players. On one hand, it’s easy to overlook and just say, ‘Hey, everybody else step it up, and it’s going to be OK.’ On the other hand, particularly if it’s tough, you miss those guys.
“But it’s just at that point that you have to be more competitive and more determined and fight your way through that or else this happens. It’s not an excuse. It’s just an explanation … I think that’s the reality of it. We didn’t fight enough to battle the difficulties that we had anyway. We got to fight harder than that and play better, of course.”
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