Get used to it. This is what Life After LeBron looks like. For now, anyway.
What could go wrong, went wrong. What could look bad, looked worse. What seemed unorganized, was unorganized. Nobody seemed very interested in playing hard, or playing defense.
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Sunday night, at the pardon-our-dust Q, the pardon-our-team Cavaliers hosted the Atlanta Hawks in the Cavs’ home opener.
As eggs go, this was a large one, and it’s not like the Cavs were playing an elite opponent. The Hawks were the worst team in the Eastern Conference last year. The Cavs were the best team in the conference last year. But they also had you-know-who. Now they don’t.
Can you tell?
The two teams came into Sunday’s game with a combined no wins. They left Sunday’s game with a combined one win — Atlanta’s. The Hawks are now 1-2 the Cavs are 0-3. And counting.
“We’ve got to clean up every area,” said Cavs chief custodian Tyronn Lue — correctly.
It was not a pretty sight: Atlanta 133, Cavs 111.
After giving up 104 and 123 points in their first two games, the Cavs, said welcome back to their fans by giving up 133, including 40 in the second quarter and 41 in the fourth quarter.
“We weren’t very good at all defensively after the first quarter,” said Lue. The Cavs actually led by 10 points after the first quarter. It was 34-24. But over the last three quarters the Cavs were run out of the gym, 109-77.
It was the Cavs’ first regular-season home game without LeBron James since April 16, 2014. As you may have heard, he left the Cavs earlier this year, three games after J.R. Smith forgot the score at the end of Game 1 of the Finals.
What’s left of the Cavs was on display Sunday night, and what’s left isn’t much. With the exception of Kevin Love, it’s a bunch of complementary, and now superfluous players. Even Love was at times iffy. He scored 14 points in the first half and two in the second half.
The Cavs’ offense was bad, but the Cavs’ defense was non-existent. The Hawks repeatedly drove down the lane for uncontested layups. That was on the possessions that didn’t end with them taking uncontested three-point shots.
The Cavs defended nobody. The made up for that by also playing sluggishly. Last year, when the Cavs were sluggish, LeBron saved them. This year there is no LeBron. So when the Cavs play sluggishly this year, they will continue to play sluggishly.
Hawks rookie point guard Trae Young played 37 minutes and was the best player on the floor, scoring 35 points, seemingly at will, going 13-for-23 from the field, including 6-for-14 from behind the arc.
He also added 11 assists, which gives him 25 in his first three games. Young was the fifth overall pick in the NBA Draft. Cavs’ point guard Collin Sexton was the eighth overall pick.
On Sunday, Sexton played 27 minutes, missed all but two of his 11 field-goal attempts and finished with four points and two assists. Sexton has three assists in three games.
Lue rightfully points out that comparing Young to Sexton is apples and oranges.
“Trae is their No.1 option, so he can shoot all the balls he wants to,” Lue said. “Collin is coming off the bench now. So it’s a different situation.”
The Cavs, obviously are in a different situation as a team than they were last year. LeBron leaving changed everything. All that is uncertain is how bad is it going to look?
Three games into the season, it looks pretty bad.
The Cavs are winless. They lost by 12 at Toronto, lost by eight at Minnesota, and lost by 22 at The Q, to what last year was the worst team in the conference.
The Cavs, like the building they play in, are under construction. This roster was built to support and complement the world’s greatest player. Without the world’s greatest player, it’s a roster that is essentially Love and a bunch of guys.
Guys who are going to need some time to figure out how best to play with, and for, one another. That won’t happen overnight. And even if they do finally figure some things out and play better, play smarter, and play harder — they’re still going to be without LeBron.
This is not like, say, getting over not having London Perrantes. The only drama in this season may be waiting to see when and to whom the Cavs trade Kyle Korver. Remember him?
For now, the Cavs are three games into the realization that they no longer have the world’s greatest safety net on their roster, to bail them out when they need bailing.
How great is LeBron?
Think about what you watched the last four years — and what you’re watching now.
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- Cavs deal Kyle Korver to Utah for Alec Burks, two draft picks
- Hawks 133, Cavs 111: Home opener ends in blowout loss as Cleveland falls to 0-3
- Raptors 116, Cavaliers 104: Cleveland rallies but comes up short in opener
- Jimmy Butler leads Timberwolves over Cavs