The postseason possibilities are fading. The talent gap is widening.
With Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Byron Scott attempting to find the right combination of players and the schedule only getting increasingly more difficult in the coming weeks, what was once a dream is slowly becoming a delusion. On the tails of a reeling and aging Boston Celtics team prior to the All-Star break, the Wine and Gold have now dropped six straight games — a season-long losing streak — with the Denver Nuggets, Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets (a combined winning percentage of 63.4) looking to extend the skid even further.
Where fourth-quarter runs-turned-comeback wins have provided jubilant narrative and time-killing water cooler discussions, the recent trend of falling behind early and falling just short as the clock strikes all zeros is starting to draw the ire of Scott, who, for the first time this season, is starting to question his team’s desire to win games at all costs.
“We played really hard for about six to seven minutes,” said a still-suited Scott following the game. “I thought the beginning of the game, we were just so-so. The second quarter was even worse. The third quarter was okay. I thought the last five to six minutes of the game, we played with what I call a sense of urgency, which I talked to them about at halftime, but that’s not good enough.”
In Saturday’s loss to the woeful Washington Wizards, it was a product of unproductive — and somewhat detrimental — bench play. Two days later, it was all-around lethargy coupled with a physical opposition in the Utah Jazz. Multiple possessions by the otherwise terrible road team resulted in two, if not three, shot attempts. The Jazz reigned in 13 offensive rebounds on the night and destroyed the Anderson Varejaoless unit to the tune of 46-30. Recently replacing center Semih Erden with Ryan Hollins, Scott is running out of options while clinging to the hope that his team will start to feel the same sense of frustration-fueled anger as he.
Rookie point guard Kyrie Irving started slow, potentially still working his way back from a bout of influenza which snuck up on him like a ninja post-Rising Stars MVP, taking only six shots in the first half, making nary a one. He would later admit that he was a bit down on himself early after missing a lay-up in which teammate Alonzo Gee would set him up perfectly. Following a candid and likely animated halftime speech from Scott, Irving and the Cavaliers seemed to turn it on — the first-overall pick would finish with 22 points on 10-of-19 shooting — but it was just too little, too late.
Irving and Thompson would later say that they were “pissed off” about the outcome. Veteran guard Daniel Gibson would say that he — along with veterans Anthony Parker and Antawn Jamison — need to “light a fire” under his teammates. Over the six-game losing streak, averaging 27 minutes as a reserve, Gibson is shooting 27 percent (10-for-37) from the floor.
With the trade deadline nine days away, they are still in a position to contend for one of the final seeds in the Eastern Conference. Slotted tenth in the East, the Cavaliers (13-23) could also very well be tied with — or behind — the Toronto Raptors (12-26) when the two teams square off in seven days. The byproduct of lackadaisical, going-through-the-motion-type play coupled with the upcoming slate of opposing teams, the Cavs may soon wind up with the postseason rug pulled out from under their high-tops, landing shoulder-first into a sea of ping-pong balls.