Tuesday, July 16, 2019 Elyria 81°


Commentary: Defending NBA champion Cavaliers finding it too easy not to play hard


This is crazy.

When have we ever seen anything like this before?

A championship team that doesn’t feel like playing half the time.

Here’s when we’ve seen this before: Never.

Well take a good look, because — incredibly, impossibly, incomprehensibly — we’re seeing it now from a Cavaliers team that is revealing itself to be one of the least mentally tough, most competitively vacant defending champions in NBA history.

With the playoffs breathing down their clammy, lethargic necks, here’s where the comatose Cavs are: They can’t win a game when they rest their key players, and they can’t win a game when the other team rests their key players.

Light a candle for Tyronn Lue.

Coaches frequently get fired when teams play like this, but what is Lue supposed to do if his team refuses to compete? That’s not coaching. That’s biology.

On the eve of the start of the playoffs, for the Cavs to allow the Atlanta Hawks’ JVs to roll into The Q and roll over the Cavs suggests that Cavs general manager David Griffin had it all wrong with his midseason roster additions.

The Cavs didn’t need more shooters. They needed more heart.

In a season filled with examples of games and segments of games during which the Cavs embarrassed themselves with their lack of interest and effort, Atlanta 114, Cleveland 100 was the most egregious of all.

Given its context, it was about as humiliating a loss as could be inflicted on a defending NBA champion.

By resting their five starters, including three of their top four scorers, the Hawks were virtually conceding the game to the Cavs. But the Cavs, who can spot a put-it-in-cruise-control opportunity from a mile away, put it in cruise control, and spent the evening cruising to a disgraceful bruising.

Never mind winning the game, the Cavs couldn’t even win a quarter. Over the last three quarters the Junior Hawks torched the Cavs’ sleepy defense for a whopping 93 points.

On a night when the Cavs, playing at home, could have gotten within one more hammer swing of nailing down the No. 1 seed in the East, they instead played like they wished they didn’t have to.

Coming, as it did, just 48 hours after their Boston Massacre, in which they blasted their nearest conference pursuers, the Celtics, into Boston Harbor, the Cavs’ meek surrender to the Junior Hawks raises all sorts of red flags as the playoffs near.

What are we to make of this wildly talented yet weirdly under-motivated group, whose will to compete seems to fluctuate by the week, the game, the quarter or even the possession? They can look like champs on Wednesday and chumps on Friday.

The playoffs?

Who knows?

Everything is on the table.

They could make it all the way back to the Finals, maybe even win it all again.

Or they could decide that they’d rather not be bothered, and could get bounced out in the first round.

Would either outcome surprise you?

Me neither.

This is one of the strangest teams we’ve ever seen in professional sports. At times, they almost seem burdened by their greatness. Other times they seem to revel in it, and enthusiastically put it, and all its breathtaking elements, on display for all to see.

Just don’t try to predict which Cavs team is going to show up from game to game. Or quarter to quarter.

On any given night they could be unbeatable or unwatchable.

Worse yet, nobody seems to know why.

Is it bad chemistry? Internal jealousies? Do they not like their coach? Are they tired of each other? Still too new to one another? Too old? Too young? Too neither?

Have they been Kardashianed?

All we know for sure is that this Cavs team is not the Cavs team that in Game 7 of last year’s Finals played the greatest single game in Cleveland sports history in completing a comeback from a 3-1 deficit to wrestle the NBA championship away from the 73-win Warriors.

Where did that Cavs team go?

Has it been devoured by its own success?

What’s most troubling is not that the Cavs, given their current state of schizophrenia, seem unlikely to win the championship again. It’s hard to win consecutive titles. There’s a reason why it’s rarely done.

The bigger concern with the Cavs right now is that too often they look like they don’t give a hoot. The team looks broken, and nobody seems to know why or how to fix it.

So the playoffs will come and the playoffs will go, and barring an unexpected recovery by the Cavs in time to win it all again, there will have to be some hard questions asked when it’s all over.

For now, the biggest and only question worth asking is this:

Why do the Cavs find it so hard to play hard?

Contact Jim Ingraham at 329-7135 or jingraham4@gmail.com and follow him @Jim_Ingraham on Twitter.

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