Now, here’s an excerpt of what Golden State Warriors Coach Steve Kerr had to say to reporters after his team lost at home to the Detroit Pistons later that evening:
“We’ve had 16 or more turnovers in every single one of our games this year,” Kerr said. “At some point, the ball just has to matter. The game has to matter enough for us to win. Teams are coming after us every single night and we know that. We’re getting everybody’s best shot and if you’re not matching that energy and play with some intelligence and discipline, you’re not going to win.”
Strikingly similar, right? That’s because both Lue and Kerr, after their teams have met in each of the last three NBA Finals, find themselves facing a strikingly similar problem: Their teams simply don’t care.
That’s the only logical way to square how both the Cavaliers and Warriors have played over the first two weeks of this NBA season. The Cavs, a team featuring the best player in the league and a roster they bragged is far deeper than a year ago (even after trading Kyrie Irving) are now 3-4, having lost four of their past five games to the Orlando Magic, Brooklyn Nets, New Orleans Pelicans and New York Knicks – none expected to be anywhere near their level.
The only Cavaliers win in that stretch? A close victory — at home, no less — over the Chicago Bulls, widely considered to be the worst team in the NBA.
Golden State, meanwhile, is 4-3, despite being universally considered to have improved a team that coasted to 67 wins a year ago before going 16-1 in the playoffs and winning a second championship in three years. Three of those four wins came in decidedly inconsistent performances, including victories this past week at home over the Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards that both required second-half surges.
The Warriors tried to do that again Sunday, closing to within three in the late stages after a 37-11 Detroit run put them in a 13-point hole in the fourth quarter. This time, however, their luck had run out.
“We finally started caring when there were six minutes left, and we immediately cut it to three,” Kerr said. “But the right team won. Karma was in the right place tonight. They deserved that.
“They outplayed us, they out-hustled us. We didn’t deserve to win that game by showing effort in the last six minutes, so the right thing happened.”
At least, when it comes to Golden State, the obvious problem is a lack of effort. No one is questioning the Warriors’ ability to figure things out for the simple reason that their talent advantage is so overwhelming that they’re managing to win more often than not while only trying for brief stretches.
The same, however, can’t be said for the Cavaliers. After Sunday’s loss, Cleveland has now been outscored by a combined 62 points by the Magic, Pelicans and Knicks. The Cavaliers rank 27th in the NBA in defensive rating — ahead of only the Timberwolves, Mavericks and Nets (for the record, Golden State is ranked 26th).
Cleveland continues to juggle lineups, moving players in and out due to both injury and performance, and it’s hard to blame Lue for trying different things. Still, at least one person — James — isn’t worried.
“What month is this for me? What is this? October? I’m not about to go crazy over it right now,” James said. “It’s too long of a season and I’ve been a part of this too many times so, I’m the wrong guy to ask. I’m too positive right now.”
He might be the only positive person in either Cleveland or Oakland these days, at least when it comes to those cities’ professional basketball teams. His is a well-earned perspective, and there is plenty of time for both of these teams to right the ship, find the proper effort levels and get things going in the right direction.
Effort is often used as a crutch when a team simply isn’t good enough. That isn’t the case for the Cavaliers and Warriors, though. Both teams are more than good enough to follow through on everyone’s expectations, and likely will wind up doing just that.
It will require both teams remembering that to win games in the NBA, some level of effort is required regardless of talent level. Thus far, the Cavaliers and Warriors are learning that lesson the hard way.
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