Dribbles: Time for Cavs to finish these jobs
Random dribbles on the Cavaliers' toughie of a 99-97 loss to the host Raptors on Friday.
1. No one who roots for the Cavs likes how this one went down -- but sorry, I'm still not all that worried about the Raptors if I'm the Cavs. The Cavs fell apart here, for sure. But I don't see any major signs that the Raptors could beat them in a seven-game series.
2. Again, this isn't intended to downplay several of the Cavs' late-game flaws. I remember looking up and seeing they had a nine-point lead with 5:00 to go. I remember thinking, "Don't blow it." I remember shaking my head when J.R. Smith and Kevin Love missed some late jumpers.
3. Anyway, back to the big picture. Obviously, Raptors guard Kyle Lowry was magnificent on his way to 43 points. But I'd give him that step-back jumper used to hit the game-winner any day of the week and twice on Sunday. The Raptors truly are a real threat and shouldn't be taken lightly. They're better than last season. But they still look like the second-best team in the East, even after beating the Cavs on Friday.
4. I've read that this was a "bad loss" for the Cavs, or that it gives the Raptors some sort of a mental edge … blah, blah, blah. None of those things are true. Yes, the Cavs blew it. But that's it. Trying to make it sound like anything more than that is silly.
5. Remember, the Raptors won the Atlantic Division each of the past two seasons -- then lost in the first round of the playoffs. They were swept by the Wizards last season, despite owning home-court advantage. They have yet to prove they can get it done when it means the most. To me, that's the only "mental edge" involved in a potential Cavs-Raptors series, and it belongs to the Cavs.
6. OK, enough of the rainbows and unicorns. The Cavs can't keep blowing leads. They have to figure out how to get the most out of Kyrie Irving. Too often, he's either dominating the ball too much or scoring 10 points and passing for one assist, as he did Friday.
7. Irving is still learning the difference between being a great individual player (that he is) and playing like a champion. I'd say he's getting closer, but he still has a ways to go. The same holds true of Love. And right there are two of the Big Three.
8. A lot of this falls on Cavs coach Tyronn Lue, and he'll be the first to say so. He's talked about the need for Irving and Love to focus more on winning games and maybe a little less on building "their brand." This may sound stronger than intended. But there is also some truth to it. Lue needs to figure out how to get those two to maximize their talents at winning time. It's one reason why he was hired to replace David Blatt at midseason.
9. LeBron James had a strong game with 25 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. What more is he supposed to do? I guess he could shoot free throws a little better (5-of-9 on Friday). Overall, the Cavs finished 15-of-21. Six misses don't sound all that horrible -- until you remember they lost by two.
10. Quick side note: The officiating in this game was atrocious, both ways. (But mostly the Raptors' way.)
11. What we mostly learned from this one is the Cavs are not playing like a championship-caliber club yet. At least, not nearly enough for a team hoping to win a championship. When things go well, they're certainly up there. They have the talent, and as LeBron indicated when asked about the Joe Johnson sweepstakes, they're plenty good enough as is.
12. But they need to do it for a full 48 minutes. That's the biggest difference between the Cavs and teams like the Warriors and Spurs. Those teams get a lead and never relent -- even on the road.
13. Right now, the Cavs (41-16) are two ahead of the Raptors (39-18) for first place in the Eastern Conference, with 25 games to go.
14. Basically, it's time to build good habits, get focused, finish these games and prepare for the playoffs. It's a mindset, and it's about being determined to play together, moving the ball, sticking with the game plan. If the Cavs don't start doing that, well, Joe Johnson, Kevin Johnson, Dennis Johnson, Magic Johnson -- it won't matter.
15. Bottom line: Losses like Friday's game happen and the Cavs can still probably beat the Raptors four of seven based on talent alone. But beating the Raptors isn't the primary goal, and the Cavs need to start consistently proving they have bigger aspirations here soon.