Okay. Now it’s official. The Cavaliers are bored. They’re not sufficiently motivated by the grind of the regular season as to have to manufacture challenges in order to get worked up. How else explain why LeBron James took a shot at Knicks rookie Frank Ntilikina a day before they were scheduled to burn rubber at the Garden? And how else explain the way they go through the motions early, and then aim for the win late?
Sure, the manner in which the Cavaliers claim victories can make for exciting hoops. Yesterday, for instance, they spotted the Knicks’ 23 points with two minutes and change left in the third quarter before putting their noses to the grindstone. And they became a sight to behold, displaying the type of suffocating defense that belied their league-worst rating and the brand of offense that highlighted their three Finals runs.
In other words, the Cavaliers still have “it.” Precisely because they are led by James, they cannot but be deemed legitimate contenders for the hardware. Unfortunately, the Larry O’Brien Trophy is not earned by constant flirtations with disaster. Already, they’ve developed bad — make that very bad — habits that figure to sink them at some point in their campaign. Having been there and done that, they no doubt feel they have a switch that they can simply turn on at the appropriate time. Well, they’re wrong.
Admittedly, the Cavaliers will get better with time. Once immediate-past Most Valuable Player candidate Isaiah Thomas returns from injury, head coach Tyronn Lue’s rotations will become less random and the wine and gold won’t look as lost. On the other hand, there is cause to contend that they’re digging a hole that could prove be too big to climb out of. It’s bad enough that all the other noted contenders are getting better and not simply staying put. It’s even worse considering that they know they’ll ultimately be up against the standard-setting Warriors.
And so the Cavaliers need to get their acts together, and fast. They would do well to stop tending to self-inflicted wounds and start dealing damage to others and not themselves. Else, they’ll be ruing a wasted opportunity and facing the very real threat of once again losing their Prodigal Son.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is the Senior Vice-President and General Manager of Basic Energy Corp.