LOS ANGELES -- Such is the state of the 2014-15 Cleveland Cavaliers that after what should have been a pretty meaningless win against a struggling Los Angeles Lakers team, our time is better spent analyzing what’s become of the identity of this 20-20 team.
And rather than celebrate a night that could very well end up being the last great game Kobe Bryant and LeBron James played against one another, we’re left to examine a Cavs squad that could be on the brink of destruction before it ever really gets off the ground.
Just like the Lakers fans who chanted “M-V-P” for Bryant late in Cleveland’s 109-102 win over L.A. on Thursday, the excitement surrounding the latest Bryant-James matchup was more out of tradition and nostalgia than the juice that goes into, say, Golden State vs. Portland this year with Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard battling for personal and team supremacy.
It was fun for fans to forget about the Lakers’ rudderless direction and enjoy Bryant dishing out a career-high 17 assists in his 1,279th pro game. Likewise, it was fun to forget the Cavs’ chaos for a few possessions and relish James looking every bit like his usual dominant self with 36 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals. But the bigger picture here isn’t so cheery, particularly for the Cavs.
Even though the Cavs might have ended a six-game losing streak, they’re still as much of a mess after the victory as they were before it. At least the Cavs' coach was able to enjoy the immediate aftermath of the game.
“It feels great,” David Blatt said after the game. “There’s nothing like winning basketball games.”
But there’s also nothing like watching a coach still thrashing for control of his team halfway through a season and not making any headway in that department.
The truth is, Blatt can’t feel great about anything with his team right now. Heck, he can’t feel great even taking ownership in calling it his team, with the construction of the roster so tied to James and the influence of associate head coach Tyronn Lue becoming abundantly clearer by the day.
Blatt spent his day denying the mounting speculation surrounding the Cavs, calling the notion that Lue was calling timeouts for him “a lot of nonsense” and adding that it was “cheap” to insinuate that Lue was overstepping his bounds behind Blatt’s back. But there was more evidence that came up in the Lakers game that kept beating the drum of discord.
Just like ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst reported earlier in the week about player-coach discord, there are fresh rumbles on our radar about unnamed Cavs players complaining to Lakers players about Blatt during the game Thursday.
And just like those disconnected huddles that were captured by a fan in Phoenix and put on YouTube, causing Blatt to say “you can create almost any image that you want, if you want” by selectively shooting video, there was another night full of foul body language on the Cavs bench.
It was so bad in that department that James and Blatt got into a bit of a verbal spat at the end of the third quarter as James made his way to the bench for the break before the start of the fourth.
James was asked about the turmoil surrounding his team after the game and predictably downplayed what they’re going through.
“I don’t really get involved in the whole media or what they talk about, whether me individual, or teammates or the coaches, or whatever the case may be,” James said. “I don’t get involved in that. I’ve been around this league too much to understand that every day you get a chance to change the outset of what the news clippings is. You just focus on the next day, you prepare and go out and play as hard as you can play, everything else will take care of itself.”
There will be plenty of next-day stories about the Kobe-LeBron swan song, or about how Kevin Love gutted it out through 37 painstaking minutes while playing with a back that “bit” on him right before tipoff, contributing 17 points, seven rebounds and “the play of the game” in Blatt’s estimation by stepping in to take a fourth-quarter charge on Jeremy Lin.
But all is not well in The Land.
And with four of Cleveland's next seven games against contenders, starting with the second night of a back-to-back Friday against the L.A. Clippers, plus games against Chicago, Oklahoma City and Portland, the Cavs' true colors will show soon enough.
Even if they’re successful during this stretch, if things stay status quo, it appears they’d be turning things around in spite of their coach, not because of him.