What we have here is an organization imploding upon itself. The moment, the games, the stakes, are apparently too big for everyone.
Except for one One.
LeBron James is fine.
Everyone else appears to be an emotional wreck. The players, the coaches, everyone. Everything.
With the exception of only a few minutes of organized cohesion in the first three games of the Cavs’ series with Indiana, this is no longer a team. It’s a collection of intimidated strangers, overwhelmed by the magnitude of the expectations surrounding them.
Strange as it sounds, playing with LeBron isn’t for everyone.
Just ask, well, everyone BUT LeBron currently on the Cavs roster.
Nobody looks comfortable. Everyone looks panicky. Scared, even. It’s a team without a soul. A team afraid of itself. A team that seems incapable of playing hard enough, together enough, long enough to climb out of what is still just a 2-1 hole to Indiana.
It only feels like 10-1.
It’s not hopeless. But it looks hopeless. It feels hopeless. The body language is awful.
The effort still sporadic. The confidence nonexistent. The opponent, smelling blood in the water, is playing with frenzied tenacity.
Here, based on the evidence presented by the first three games of what threatens to become a franchise-altering (and not in a good way) series, is the sobering, incontrovertible reality: If LeBron doesn’t play out of his freaking mind every minute of the game, the Cavs lose.
It’s as simple, and unfortunate, as that.
He coasted through the first quarter of Game 1, then posted a garden-variety triple-double, but it was too late. The Cavs got blown out by 18.
In Game 3, he coasted through the third quarter as the Cavs blew most of what was a 17-point halftime lead. LeBron restarted his engine in the fourth quarter and did all the heavy lifting, but it was too late again, and the Cavs lost again.
Their only win came in Game 2, when LeBron exploded out of the gate like a runaway freight train, outscoring the Pacers by himself in the first quarter. He kept it in overdrive for all four quarters, scoring 46 points, and the Cavs won — barely. By three points.
He’s getting no consistent help from anyone. It’s starting to look like the late-Paul Silas, early-Mike Brown eras, when LeBron’s options were either pass the ball to John Doe or Oliver Ordinary (not their real names) — or do it himself.
In the first three games of the Indiana series, the Cavs are 0-2 when LeBron scores fewer than 46 points.
Is this any way to convince the world’s most important player to not leave Cleveland again? Unless the other Cavs players suddenly find some confidence, some character and some want-to, that’s where this thing seems headed: an embarrassing first-round playoff exit by the three-time defending Eastern Conference champs, followed, a few weeks later, by LeBron telling Jim Gray, “I’m going to take my talents to …”
That would be an ignominious end to a year in which, we can now say, the Cavs got all of their big decisions wrong. Start with the decision to cave in to Kyrie Irving’s trade request, even though Irving was under contract for two more years.
The disastrous trade that sent Irving to the Celtics did nothing to help the Cavs this year — which was critically important because it’s potentially LeBron’s walk year — meaning they voluntarily removed the best offensive point guard in the league from their roster, without replacing him.
The Cavs could have voided the trade when their doctors got a look at the junkyard that was Isaiah Thomas’ hip, but they didn’t. Another big miss.
The players they acquired in their midseason roster purge are younger and more athletic than those they replaced. But the new guys seem to be the most overwhelmed by the playoffs.
Throw in all the injuries, the illness of coach Tyronn Lue, and the whole season has seemingly been played on the fly. The only constant has been the indestructible James, who has played in all 85 games, and is now trying to win a playoff series almost single-handedly. Honk if you’ve seen this before.
In his private moments, LeBron probably ponders all of that, as he contemplates his upcoming “Decision.”
As for the beleaguered Lue, maybe it’s time to commit to a starting lineup anchored by the core four: James, Kevin Love, J.R. Smith, and forgotten tabloid superstar Tristan Thompson, an All-TMZ first-team selection. At least they’ve all been here, done this. Together.
Maybe there’s some chemistry still to be squeezed from that group.
Because right now, the Cavs are lost in the competitive woods. The Pacers have them on the run, and both teams know it.
LeBron can’t score 46 points every night.
Well … actually he could, but you know what I mean.
Contact Jim Ingraham at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him at Jim_Ingraham@Twitter.
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