The Warriors and Cavs have each used the “Finals hangover” excuse as an explanation for slow starts this season.
For Golden State, that was lame given the lack of talent they have. Steve Kerr got his entire team’s attention following the Oct. 29 loss to Detroit, saying the game has to matter to the Warriors despite how early into the season we are.
He got the results he wanted on an impressive three-game roll, winning a trio of games combined 67 points. No slouches were in the mix, either, as the Clippers, Spurs and Nuggets were the victims. After an inconsistent 4-3 start, the Warriors look like themselves again. Kerr declared they’ve “turned the corner.” Now that they’ve joined the ‘17-’18 season, we’ll see whether the blowouts continue.
Even though LeBron James put together a 57-point night against Washington in the Cavs’ best win of the season, losing to Atlanta two nights later put a colossal spotlight on what’s truly troubling the East’s beasts.
Expecting to just walk on to the floor and counting on victories against woeful teams like the Hawks that they’re supposed to beat by double-digits isn’t going to happen simply because the point spread says it is. It was embarrassing that James’ supporting cast, outside of current second-team catalyst Dwyane Wade and sniper Kyle Korver, shot 16-for-46 and delivered little injury.
Kevin Love was reportedly ill, but that’s no excuse at this level. Guys like J.R. Smith and new arrivals Derrick Rose and Jae Crowder continue to struggle. We knew there would be an adjustment period and it’s not too early to panic, but there is reason for concern if you’re holding a Cavs’ East champs future ticket.
It’s puzzling that Crowder seems like a shell of himself. He was specifically made a priority of someone they had to have back in a deal for Kyrie Irving because of the respect James had gained for him in last year’s Eastern Conference finals. As November’s opening week wraps up, Crowder is averaging 8.2 points on sub-40 percent shooting from the field, including a 28.6 3-point clip.
Top defenders Tristan Thompson and Iman Shumpert are out with injuries and All-Star Isaiah Thomas won’t return from his hip surgery until early 2018, so the Cavs are going to be inconsistent from night to night. LeBron can’t be happy with having to put in a full season of max effort and I can’t imagine he’s going to. There are going to be games like the one he posted against the Wizards where he’ll provide a reminder that he’s still the best player in the world. Then there will be other nights where he’ll remember that he’s playing one night of an 82-game season that isn’t really decided until after all of those often tedious dates are played.
It’s those nights where you’ll want to be invested on the opposite side, taking advantage of the Cavs brand that commands a favorite’s role more often than not due to James’ presence. From now until Thomas returns, the Cavs are going to be a mixed bag. Right now, they’re looking like a 45-win team, which is being generous. Getting Thomas back means dealing with getting him involved and masking his defensive deficiencies. Wins won’t be a given even when Cleveland is at full strength, and I write that as someone who remains a believer that we’ll see a fourth consecutive Warriors-Cavs Finals.
This week’s contests come against Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Bucks and James Harden’s Rockets, so they’ll have everyone’s full attention. That Nov. 11 date in Dallas or that mid-month visit to Charlotte probably won’t take on the same importance for the defending East champs.
In every one of the week’s games, they won’t be in the familiar position of being able to turn it on whenever they like due to the presence of the best player on the planet. Against Houston, they will be a decided underdog. While we probably won’t have to get used to hearing that the Cavs have lost five of six, as is the case entering the week, there will likely be multiple losing streaks to come.
I’d hold off on getting in on a Cleveland Eastern Conference champ ticket, but not because I don’t believe they won’t ultimately pull through. I just think it’s inevitable that you’ll get better odds in a month’s time.
That’s where we’re at with Finals hangover. Golden State has recovered, up and at it, likely enjoying a Bloody Mary as we speak, or some other form of acceptable breakfast beverage like a Mimosa.
Cleveland is blind drunk if it thinks its struggles have anything to do with what happened last June. The Cavs’ issues are all about 2017-18, Irving residing in Boston and a less imposing group left behind. James will help them recover too, but it will be a work in progress, filled with missteps.