NEW ORLEANS — The Cleveland Cavaliers were beaten 123-101 by the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday night, marking their third loss in four games, but the early skid is not too concerning for LeBron James.
“I’m fine,” James said after finishing with 18 points, eight assists and five rebounds while filling in at point guard again as Derrick Rose continues to be sidelined with a sprained left ankle. “I’m fine, and we’re fine. It’s a long season. It’s way too [early to judge].”
It’s the early portion of games that have been the most problematic. The Cavs have been outscored by 44 points combined in the first quarter of their past four games, allowing their opponents to score an average of 33.8 points in the period.
James believes the trickle-down effect of Rose’s injury has thrown Cleveland’s lineups off-kilter, hurting the Cavs both defensively and offensively.
“We’re out two starting point guards,” James said of Rose and Isaiah Thomas. “So I’m not overlooking what’s going on. I wasn’t overlooking if we had success. I’m not going to overlook if we had a couple games off. I’m not getting too high and getting too low. I’m an even-keel guy. I understand this is a long process. We played some different [lineups]. Like I told you guys, we played some crazy lineups that we haven’t even played in practice. So we’ll continue to get better. There’s going to be some games where we don’t look as good unfortunately, but that’s all part of the process, and we just have to be patient with it until we can become full-strength.”
Saturday was the Cavs’ fourth straight game in which they trailed at halftime, marking their longest such streak in the past three seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
With eight players added to the mix from last year’s NBA Finals team, James said the group is still adjusting to the challenge of having a target on its back every game.
“We have spurts,” James said. “Defensively, we have spurts, and we know we can get to a point where we can sustain it a little bit longer than what we’ve done so far. So that’s a positive. On the negative side, we’ve had more lulls than we’ve had spurts, and teams — we always know every year — when we have lulls, teams make us pay. It doesn’t matter what they’re shooting, it doesn’t matter how they’re playing, teams are going to make us pay, and it happened again tonight.”
Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said the defensive breakdowns are obvious. Cleveland let New Orleans make 13 3-pointers after all the open looks the team allowed Orlando, Chicago and Brooklyn take. But Lue’s team’s offense is also lagging behind.
“Well, we got to do a better job taking the one-on-one challenge, first,” Lue said. “Guys are driving us, beating us on the catch, point of entry. But, I mean, a lot of this, if we’re missing 3s and missing shots offensively and turning the basketball over, then we can’t get back in transition. So better offense helps with our defense. Because if we’re scoring, then we can get back and get set. We just got to be better.”
The Cavs came into the night ranked sixth in offensive efficiency at 107.3 points per 100 possessions. Last season, they were third in that category, scoring 110.9 points per 100 possessions. One of the bright offensive spots for Cleveland was Dwyane Wade, who scored 15 points on 7-for-12 shooting with four assists in 23 minutes off the bench. It was his second straight double-digit scoring night after he accepted a role with the second unit.
“At some point, we’ll get tired of being down early,” Wade said. “At some point, we’ll get tired of being a .500 ballclub. At some point, you’ll get tired of it, and whatever team you want to be, it will show itself.”
Kevin Love paced the Cavs with a season-high 26 points and 11 rebounds in 28 minutes. He banged his left leg in the second half while being boxed out, which caused him to fall to the floor, but he believes he will play Sunday against the New York Knicks.
“We’re really upset,” Love said sarcastically when asked about the loss. “If we were in March or April, maybe it’d be a different story. But right now we know we have to get a lot better. We’re frustrated. We’re pissed off. But in no way are we going to panic. We need to get better, watch a lot of film, energy needs to be there. We all need to be on the same page. We’ll get there.”
Tristan Thompson pointed to the Cavs’ transition defense as the biggest culprit through Cleveland’s 3-3 start to the year, but like his teammates, he preached patience.
“Think about it: It’s the first time since LeBron came back that we had that many new guys,” Thompson said. “It’s the first time, so it’s going to be a process. It’s going to take some time. It’s a long f—ing season. We’re going to play a hundred-and-some f—ing games. I’m not worried about it.”
His coach shared a similar outlook.
“I’m not concerned,” Lue said.