On Dec. 17, the Cavaliers beat the Wizards, 106-99, in Washington. It was the Cavs’ fifth straight win – and their 18th win in 19 games.
They were rolling.
Now, however, they are not. The Cavs (26-17) have lost nine of 12, including four in a row. Even worse? Three of their last five losses have come against Boston, Toronto and Golden State – by a combined 58 points.
“Look, right now they just suck,” NBA analyst Greg Anthony said on The DA Show. “They really do. In terms of trying to integrate IT (Isaiah Thomas) back, he’s not right. He’s not ready yet. It’s going to take some time. Everybody now is kind of going to have to adjust.”
The Cavs hoped to stop the bleeding with a home win over the Warriors on Monday, but they lost 118-108. Cleveland led 64-57 at halftime but was outscored 61-44 thereafter.
“They still defensively are challenged at times, and I don’t think the motivation (is there),” Anthony said. “The Golden State game, they had motivation. The problem, though, is they mentally can’t sustain it for 48 minutes. They were as good as they needed to be for about 28 minutes of that game. That’s where you saw they couldn’t sustain it. For Golden State, it’s a non-issue to sustain. Every game has ebbs and flows, but even when it isn’t going well, generally if you’re an elite team you have an ability to figure out a way to keep yourself connected, to stay in the game until you can get that burst. They don’t have that right now.
“I do think they’re going to get get it,” Anthony continued. “But I’m not getting to the big picture of Golden State yet because I don’t think we give enough credit to how good Toronto and Boston are. They’re better teams than they were a year ago. I think Cleveland is better than they were a year ago – or will be once they get to the postseason – but right now they’re about where they were a year ago. And so, that gap’s been closed a little bit and I think those teams are legit.”
Boston (34-11) and Toronto (29-13) lead Cleveland by 7.0 and 3.5 games, respectively, in the East. The Raptors, it is worth noting, are more than just DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas, C.J. Miles, and Delon Wright are all averaging between 9.1 and 13.7 points per game.
Anthony believes Toronto is a legitimate title contender.
“Yes, this is a different Raptors team,” he said. “A lot of times we don’t want to believe our eyes. We look at the Raptors and we just want to think that the Raptors are the same team they’ve always been, but they are a different animal. They are a much-improved offensive team. Their ball movement, their spacing – they’re playing the game now the way I believe you got to be able to play it to win. They’re a better basketball team than they were a year ago. They just are – across the board. So while you want to look at the core guys, it’s the supporting cast that’s starting to elevate them.”
Boston can say the same, but here’s what makes the Celtics downright terrifying: their three best players – Kyrie Irving, 25, Jaylen Brown, 21, and Jayson Tatum, 19 – are all going to get better.
“I don’t know if they can get better enough this year to where you can say, ‘They can win it,’” Anthony said, “but they’re trending in the right areas. They’re just better teams.”
And this year, they know Cleveland is vulnerable.
“I don’t think going into the postseason last year those teams (Boston and Toronto) believed they could beat Cleveland,” Anthony said. “Even though Cleveland had that really rough regular season, I still think deep down – and to me, it kind of showed – that LeBron is still the best player, and I just don’t think they believed that they could beat his team. I don’t know that that confidence is lacking as much this year as it’s been in years past – and that’s going to be a concern. Confidence is 80 percent of the game in every sport, and I think Boston and Toronto are starting to really believe that they can win the East. I think that’s going to create even more of a challenge for Cleveland, who I still think will win, but right now they’re not a very good basketball team.”