Random dribbles following the Cavaliers' 127-115 home loss to the Washington Wizards on Saturday:
1. The Cavs look beaten, battered, bruised, a little bit old and fairly lacking in the area of the motivation.
2. Thank heavens it's only March.
3. Still, the Cavs will be well into their first playoff series in less than a month. They will need to play differently than they are now.
4. On the bright side, coach Tyronn Lue suggested that is precisely what the Cavs will do. "You need to hold back a little," he told the media about the end of the regular season.
5. That is good news to anyone who watched John Wall and the Wizards execute to near perfection and whiz right past the Cavs on their own floor. The Wizards couldn't miss in the first half. The Wizards were a reason why, but as usual, so were the Cavs and their fading defense.
6. The Cavs backcourt of Kyrie Irving and J.R. Smith can't keep anyone from penetrating. Tristan Thompson hasn't been defending the rim. So this is suddenly a team that can't guard anyone on the perimeter or in the paint.
7. The Cavs (47-25) now hold just a half game lead over Boston for first in the East. It doesn't get any easier, either -- as the Cavs visit San Antonio on Monday. Yeah, they gotta play the Spurs at their place now.
8. LeBron James went for 24 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists with one good eye (and for a few minutes, a pair of goggles). But his D has been bad. Irving finished with 23 points, but went just 8-of-23 from the floor. Wall (37 points, 11 assists) was the better point guard on this night.
9. I'm not about to press the panic button on the defending champs. Everyone knew this would be a grueling month with 12 of 17 games on the road. And the Washington visited on the second night of a back-to-back. The Cavs won the first, Friday at Charlotte. But this is a no-excuse and bottom-line business. The Cavs must do better.
10. Smith is having his worst season as Cav after holding out for a huge contract in the fall. Granted, he suffered a broken thumb and missed an extended period. But he was playing poorly before the injury, and anymore, it looks like he's just running up and down the court. In one sequence Friday at Charlotte, James threw Smith a pass and J.R. was actually caught off guard. Players have been accused of napping on defense ... but offense? Almost never.
11. This isn't intended to trash Smith. But he needs to get it together for the Cavs to truly contend. He turned himself into the team's best perimeter defender last season, playing with some real feistiness at that end of the floor. This year, he's often been a hindrance.
12. I'd like to see Derrick Williams get more time, either in place of Richard Jefferson or Channing Frye. Williams is built like LeBron, a good athlete who is strong and can defend multiple positions. I'm not saying he's the answer, but he plays with tons of energy, and frankly, the Cavs really could use some.
13. The Wizards, by the way, are 45-28 and just 2.5 games back of the Cavs.
14. LeBron to reporters: "We've been more down than up. ... This has been one of the most challenging seasons of my career, because of all the injuries, the lineups, the guys in and out."
15. James stressed that the Cavs aren't overly concerned, but for the first time in a while, he didn't really offer any solutions.
16. Now, keep in mind the Cavs could beat the Spurs on Monday and everyone would immediately start believing in them again. It really could happen that quickly.
17. Also, the Cavs play the Celtics in Boston on April 5. Win that one, and the Celtics will have zero reason to believe they can beat the Cavs in a seven-game series. It's shaping up to be the biggest game of the regular season for both teams. The Celtics will need to win to have anything resembling hope should the teams meet in the playoffs.
18. Finally, if the Cavs are still playing this poorly on defense in April, it will be cause for concern. Right now? Well, this isn't a team that takes pride in staying motivated late in the season. Right or wrong, that's just the way this group of Cavs has always been.