CLEVELAND -- It’s no secret the Cleveland Cavaliers are in the middle of a rough patch.
The Cavs had lost eight of 11 entering Monday's game against the Golden State Warriors, trying to end a three-game skid. It’s the kind of slump that has been characteristic of the Cavs over the last three seasons. Last year, for example, it happened in March. But since it is something the team tends to shake off, Warriors coach Steve Kerr said it’s not something he expects to linger throughout the season, or even beyond Monday night for that matter.
“Sometimes the best thing for a team that’s struggling is a rivalry game to get the blood going,” Kerr said. “I expect them to come out and I expect them to come out and play a lot better than they have been these last couple weeks.”
The Cavs have struggled in just about every facet of the game since Christmas. Their offense has been slow at times, meaning their shots haven’t fallen at their normal rate. The defense that improved during their 13-game win streak is currently nowhere to be found.
But Kerr says the Cavs have one big, very obvious piece that makes it a given that they can come out of any slump.
“Yes, I am very aware that they have LeBron (James),” said Kerr. “We’ve played them in the Finals three straight years, and I guarantee you there was a moment like this in all three seasons, at least one, sometimes more. And so we know he’s always going to get the ship righted. What happens now has nothing to do with what happens later.”
In some ways, perhaps Kerr is even more unfazed by the Cavs' recent slide and James’ ability to change their course because he thinks James is playing some of the best basketball of his career.
“I know he’s better now than he was four years ago,” Kerr said. “And that’s insane when you think about that because that should have been his prime four years ago, and he was already an MVP and a champion. And he’s better -- better shooter, better player. He keeps getting better, so I believe him.”
Some of these challenges the Cavs have experienced come as they integrate a major piece in the form of Isaiah Thomas into their rotation. In fact, the issues that surround adding such a large piece is something that isn’t all that surprising, according to Cavs coach Tyronn Lue.
"When players are on minutes restrictions then you know you can't really do what you want to do," he said. "It's different, lineups change and he can't really sit out for too long. You gotta get him back in, but then he's playing with the second unit, so it's just a combination of things. But there's no excuse. It's a great problem to have and once he gets back to being IT and 100 percent as far as playing wise, I think he'll be fine."
That struggle of integrating a major piece into a group that has been together for a few years and to multiple Finals is one that Kerr knows well. It’s something the Warriors had to do last year when Kevin Durant joined their squad in free agency, and Kerr said it took about two-to-three months for that process to really be completed.
“It’s a good challenge because you know you’re working with a great player,” Kerr said. “It’s just a matter of time. For us there were some conceptual things we tried to teach KD about the way we play as opposed to his last team, just different stylistic dynamics. But more than anything it’s just reps. The more Kevin played with our guys, the more comfortable he felt, so it’s just time. I felt like with KD it took a couple of months. I felt like it was right around this time last year where he got more comfortable, so it was maybe two or three months, and I think that’s what it takes--familiarity more than anything.”
Regardless of what still needs to happen in the Cavs’ locker room this season, Lue was very clear on Sunday, saying the Cavs need to get up for this game or it will be an “embarrassing” loss.
But it’s not like they don’t have extra motivation on Monday.
“There’s an awareness that nothing is decided in January,” Kerr said. “Anyone that’s been in the league knows that whatever happens now has nothing to do with what happens in June. There’s just a special feeling when you play against each other when you’ve got this kind of rivalry. We have 82 games, but certain games you circle and get more excited for, and this is one of them.”