At 1-3 and already pointing accusatory-fingers at one another about everyone assuming the roles they might be best cast in for the Cleveland Cavaliers, LeBron James seems to have his young and impressionable teammates right where he wants them.
Forget about tough love. The message James seemed to be sending to new-jacks Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters Tuesday night during the Cavs’ 101-82 loss to the Portland Trailblazers was one of trial by fire. Check that, misfire.
The four-time league MVP attempted just four shots after halftime, barely breaking a sweat in netting only 11 points for the night, while Irving and Waiters were en route to a combined 6-for-28 travesty of a display, paving the way for the Blazers to end the game on a 46-32 blitz. James’ soulless and scoreless second half made for his lowest point total since 2008 and marked the first time he has gone as long as three quarters scoring just two points since his rookie season in 2003.
But when all was said and done, it was clear the fire was brimming in LeBron James Tuesday night, clear he felt he had a point to make as crucial as any he’s made over his full eleven NBA seasons.
“We have to understand what it takes to win,” he told ESPN. “It’s going to be a long process, man. There’s been a lot of losing basketball around here for a few years. So a lot of guys that are going to help us win ultimately haven’t played a lot of meaningful basketball games in our league. When we get to that point when every possession matters, no possessions off — we got to share the ball, we got to move the ball, we got to be a team and be unselfish — we’ll be a better team.”
James didn’t mention either Irving or Waiters by name, but then he didn’t have to. The twenty-something year-olds are the primary holdovers from a team that has gone 57-107 over the last two seasons. Just as alarming, is the way they’ve done it, with their infighting and actual locker room brawl last season being well documented in NBA circles.
“There’s a lot of bad habits; a lot of bad habits have been built up over the last couple of years and when you play that style of basketball it takes a lot to get it up out of you,” added James. “I do understand it’s going to be tough in the beginning. It’s going to be a process, I keep on harping on that word, but it’s the truth. I’ve been there before and understand it.”
Indeed, James and the Heat struggled to a 9-8 start in 2010-11, but things never really seemed to be as scatter-brain in South Beach with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh as they’ve been over the first week of the season in Cleveland, as evidenced by Miami’s run of 21 wins in their next 22 games following their uneventful start.
“I think you got to go a few games in,” rookie coach David Blatt said of his team hopefully finding its bearings before long. But what has to trouble James almost as much as any of the aforementioned is the fact that after boasting in the preseason that he felt the Cavs could win the battle of the boards in every game this season, they’ve yet to do so in a single one.
“I think a lot of people get it misconstrued on what it takes to win by thinking just scoring or just going out and trying to win it yourself,” James added. “This is a team game and you have to rely on your teammates as well. So we will get an understanding of that as the time goes on.”
Or face the prospect of going down in history as one of the NBA’s most underachieving, so-called dream teams.