Nineteen straight losses. It’s the fifth longest streak in NBA history, equal to the longest streak in team history, and five losses away from a full share of losing’s most infamous record. Hyperbole aside, take this in: The Cavs have lost nearly a fourth of the season in a row.
A pessimist would harp on what an incomprehensibly awful 30 games these have been…so let’s do that. What an incomprehensibly awful 30 games, and moreover, what a disconcertingly numbing effect they have had on me. By this time last year I was staying up nights at a time, worrying my way to the best kind of stomach ulcer (Amar’e safari, anyone?). This year, no such luck. Perhaps the most staggering characteristic all of these games have shared is that they have rarely been close. What, you ask, is the point differential over the past thirty? Minus-fifteen per! Just about 108-93 on average. That’s unbelievable. That’s averaging a blowout.
For the most part, it was more of the same tonight. The Cavs lost by 14 in a game that often looked far worse than that. The positives? A late Cavalier run that temporarily boosted our respectability rating, and a pretty decent looking box score that came as a result of a high scoring game. (I suppose while we’re losing at this historic rate we might as well fill up said box scores and thereby do the best possible job in boosting our respective trade values! This was almost definitely the crux of the halftime speech. Maybe also something about self-respect.) After giving up 80 first-half points to these Nuggets two weeks ago, the Cavs were able to shave ten points off that number tonight. At this rate, the Cavs will be an average defensive team against the Nuggets in a month and a half. I suspect this was the defensive strategy all along. Set the bar low enough, and even Anthony Parker can jump over it.
A few bulletographs:
I feel like we should start with defense.
In truth, not a whole heck of a lot to be upset about defensively. Not because the Cavs weren’t awful, but because we’ve established such a sizeable control group of horrific defensive performances, that I fear tonight’s effort may even be worthy of a small pat on the back. Yes, the Nuggets scored 70 points in the first half, but the Cavs actually had a little something to do with Denver’s 47 point second. I feel like at this point we have to grade them on a curve. Also, while the Nuggets may not be overly reliable, they are still pretty darn good. And pretty darn good = completely impossible for the Cavs to match up with. Elite perimeter scorer? Check. I can actually stop right there. That’s enough to beat us. But the Nuggets also happen to have some real athleticism inside and out, plenty of shooters, very solid point play…and as a basketball fan, it’s kind of a shame that their peak as we’ll see them seems destined to have been two years ago.
The Cavs made a pair of runs in the late 3rd/early 4th, and actually seemed poised to make a game of it…but in the end, they just had no one to drag them over the hump (Joey Graham left injured midway through the fourth), and no one to defend against an aggressive Carmelo Anthony (Joey Graham left injured midway through the fourth?). Joey Graham’s 10 second-half points aside, in instances such as these, it’s hard not to feel like the Nuggets went to sleep. Just as the opposition used to get up for a 60 win team, they now seem to do the opposite against an 8 win one. Post-game, Byron Scott repeated a familiar plea to the team in asking them for “48 minutes of good basketball.” I assume this means the type of basketball they played in the third and early fourth. I just wonder in this case (and in a number of similar situations) how much the Cavs success has had to do with an opponent letting their guard down. I kind of feel like if the Cavs were capable of knocking a team on their heels at the start of a game, they would have done it by now…prior to tying the franchise record for losing. The Cavs were able to climb back within 106-99 with 4:31 left, at which point the Nuggets had a two possession flurry that effectively ended the game within 37 seconds: Ty Lawson lay-up, Anthony Parker miss, Chauncey Billups 3. 111-99. The game was never close again.
A few statistics of note:
J.J. Hickson (24 pts, 14 reb, 10-12 shooting)
Ramon Sessions (14 pts, 13 ast, 0 TO)
Antawn Jamison (20 pts, 12 reb, 6 asst)
Taking that at surface value, it’s not half bad. Especially encouraging is J.J.’s continued energy and rebounding, all evidence that he’s responding to Byron’s tough love. Nice to see him improving on that volume shooting PG-esque 42.6% from the field as well. Sessions continues to be a solid, if imperfect guard, and Jamison is doing his damndest to do whatever it is he’s done his entire career. (Side note: My current Jamison sentiment is that we should trade him next year as a hefty expiring contract. What might that be worth with the new CBA? My hope is for a gold after the apocalypse-type situation.)
My only worry here is that everyone catches Jamison-disease, whose symptoms include the ability to rack up numbers without having any substantive impact on the direction of a game. As really all three listed above have shown fully capable of doing. And though we’re theoretically in possession of the host and thus should be capable of finding a cure, I worry about J.J. most of all. Truthfully, as far as his development is concerned…I think I’d rather see him fouling out opposing bigs with his speed and athleticism then scoring 20 points. Not that I don’t want him scoring 20 points, but if someone is having a true impact on a game, their team is not losing by 20+ consistently. That stands independent of how many points or rebounds are collected. At some point, the stats have to prove applicable to team performance.
A final thought about individual morale when mired in potentially the worst losing streak in the history of your sport:
I find myself watching the body language of the players, and quite often, I think they look how I feel. Which is how I think we all might feel as fans of a team that’s lost 29 of their past 30 games. You can only throw the clicker so many times until it just seems silly to throw it anymore. And it’s tough to fully invest yourself in a game when you’re not in ‘clicker throwing’ mode. So I wonder how that manifests itself within the Cavs. Is it tough to take your game seriously when you’re so thoroughly outclassed? I suspect a retort to this worry might be that taking the game seriously irregardless of circumstance is what being a professional athlete is all about, that it’s what being a professional anything is all about. But these guys are human, and most of them are self-aware…and while being down 30, I’d imagine they’d feel as ridiculous diving on the floor as I’d look jumping off the couch when the lead was cut to 28. I think that’s a battle we’re watching unfold every game. I think today they won it. At the very least, the Cavs weren’t just going through the motions for the entirety of the second half. But that hasn’t always been the case. I’d even go so far as to submit that hasn’t usually been the case. My hope is only this…that whatever I just described (self-awareness?), doesn’t sink in too deeply. There’s not a whole heck of a lot to do about it at the moment, but I wonder if pride can be battered to the point of no return. If some teams stay sucky for so long because their players begin to identify themselves with it. Even the talented ones. For the few who will be on this team when it does bounce back off the ground, I hope this experience leaves them salvageable.
On we trudge:
@ MIA (potentially without Wade and Bosh…)
I could see the streak ending in one of the latter three. If not, I’ll see you all in the record books.