INDIANAPOLIS — The Golden State Warriors are coming to Cleveland Monday, and their visit couldn’t come at a worse time for the Cavaliers.
“You could win a hundred straight games and face the Warriors and there are still challenges,” LeBron James said.
Well, yes. But the Cavs haven’t won 100 in a row. They’ve lost three straight, seven out of the last nine games and eight of 11.
Set aside their 97-95 loss to Indiana Friday, when they actually played some defense, and the Cavs can’t stop anyone. They coughed up 387 points in the three games for the loss to the Pacers.
And speaking of that Pacers loss, the Cavs failed to score over the final 3:56. They blew a six-point lead (22 points overall, if you go back to the first quarter) and missed their last eight shots.
James, who scored 27 points to go with 11 assists in the game, stepped out of bounds on a drive to the hoop with 2.3 seconds remaining and missed his last three shots. This loss stung.
The Cavs have been on the road since the morning of Jan. 3. They went 1-4 on this road trip, and teams are sometimes sluggish in their first game at home after a long trip.
And, of course, here come the defending-champion Warriors, winners of their last 11 on the road with a history of blowing out the Cavs on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Golden State plays at Toronto Saturday.
The Cavs have to find a way to make themselves look presentable for their Finals dance partner these last three seasons.
“It’s everything now, especially since they have Steph (Curry) back, he puts them in a whole different category,” Kevin Love said. “Gonna have to scrap, going to have to fight, use our home court to our advantage we play well and leave it all out there on the floor.”
Actually, Curry has missed the last two games with a sprained ankle, including Friday’s win over Milwaukee. But Curry was out when Golden State beat the Cavs on Christmas because of a severe sprain, and in his five games played between then and now he averaged 35.2 points and made 33 3-pointers.
The Cavs were in a great place when they last saw the Warriors. They’d recently won 18 out of 19 and arrived in the Bay Area with quiet confidence.
Cleveland lost the game, 99-92, essentially on poor shooting. The Cavs shot a season-worst .318 from the floor. They didn’t know it then, but the loss that day was the start of this very bad stretch.
In the Cavs’ last seven losses (starting with the Warriors), they’ve only scored more than 100 points once.
“I just thought offensively we didn’t play well,” coach Tyronn Lue said of the Christmas game. “It kinda started on that trip offensively, just haven’t been making shots, haven’t been playing with a lot of pace. We’ve just got to get back to doing that.”
As previously mentioned, the Warriors have a penchant for embarrassing the Cavs on MLK Day. Last year, in Oakland, Calif., the Warriors won 126-91. The year before, in Cleveland, it was 132-98. David Blatt was fired by the end of that week.
The Cavs would seem to be set up for a similar fate, given how things have gone lately. After an initially smooth entry, Isaiah Thomas’ transition to the Cavs has been rocky. He’s shot 5-of-23 in his last two games and 0-of-17 in the first halves of both games.
Thomas didn’t play against the Pacers. Monday will of course be his first game with the Cavs against the Warriors.
Lue recently said the Cavs were playing with “agendas,” which he’s explained to both the team and reporters to mean that the players lately haven’t been moving the ball or helping on defense.
“If the coach sees that, that’s what he sees,” J.R. Smith said. “I don’t think that’s the case. We’re too talented to play for agendas.”
Smith said he believes the Cavs are “fine” and will eventually pull together because of James and of players with rings and playoff experience on Cleveland’s deep roster. But he said now is the time for the Cavs to be working on themselves, instead of any one opponent, because of the newness of Thomas in the lineup and other players coming and going due to injury and rest.
“Tough to get a groove for one another and it’s going to be like that for quite a little bit,” Smith said. “We can go on a winning streak, still doesn’t mean we know each other. But it’s alright. We’ll get better. That’s what the regular season is for.”
Batten down the hatches, folks. Here come the Warriors.
“Now it’s time to get back to the Q, get back home,” Lue said. “Get our fans behind us. We need them and start from there.”