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In a bit of a Thanksgiving Eve surprise, the Toronto Raptors downed the Cleveland Cavaliers by a 103-99 score on Wednesday. The Raptors, apparently unburdened by the fact that Canadian Thanksgiving took place six weeks ago, steadied themselves behind Kyle Lowry’s 27 points while holding LeBron James to 6-16 shooting. James looked visibly perturbed several times after his Cavaliers fell short on either end.
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The Cavs, in defense, were playing without starters Timofey Mozgov and Matthew Dellavedova, alongside the typically-missed Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert, and coach David Blatt was quick to point out as much after the loss:
"I thought that we got tired for obvious reason," he said. "We are very shorthanded. I thought our guys played hard. I thought we ran out of gas."
LeBron James wasn’t having any of it:
James was later asked about fatigue and he said, "No, it's not an excuse." Well, what about the injuries? He quickly responded, "It's not an excuse. ... We got to get better" and then voiced his disappointment and concern with the absence of physical play.
What one needs to point out is that these comments came after a team meeting, called just prior to reporters entering the locker room.
Or, not a “team meeting.” An extended chat. Typical stuff. Mo Williams?
"It wasn't a team meeting. It's just another game," Mo Williams said of the postgame team chat. "When you lose games, we just discuss things we could have done better and we need to do going forward. That was basically it."
As soon as you entered the room, the mood was tense. There was a somber feeling of a squad that had just lost a playoff game. Players were visibly frustrated and shocked. Tristan Thompson's head was tilted downward, as if he were ashamed of himself.
Kevin Love and Mo Williams were sitting at their locker stalls quiet, with puzzled expressions glued to their faces. LeBron James emerged from the shower with a nasty snarl. The reverberations of an unacceptable outcome was everywhere.
"It's all mindset," James said after the game, still visibly frustrated. "It comes from within. I've always had it; my upbringing had me like that. It's either you got it or you don't."
It’s understandable that the Cavaliers would want to head into the holiday with the grin from a win still stuck to their faces, but everyone needs to take a step back, here.
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The Cavs haven’t won a damn thing yet, and LeBron James hasn’t won a title in two and a half years, so it’s fair to accept that the soon-to-be 31-year old will be pushing his ring-less teammates a little harder than most other championship-level vets at this point. Still, this is November, the Raptors are quite good, and the body language really needs to change. He can’t martyr his way into yet another too-early postseason loss, as he did in 2010 and 2011.
As stated, the Raptors are good. Wednesday’s win moved the team to 10-6, the team boasts a top five offense and top ten defense, and the Cavaliers (currently, and expectedly, working with a middling defense) are just the sort of team to give up 50 percent shooting and 44 percent three-point shooting to a darn good team.
It’s true that three of Cleveland’s four losses have come on the road, and while the defeat in Toronto on Wednesday wasn’t as close as the score indicated, those other three road losses came via very winnable games (a last-second loss to Chicago, a double overtime defeat in Milwaukee, a five-point loss in Detroit).
The Warriors are also undefeated, and they’re the team that, erm, defeated James’ Cavaliers last June. The whole of the NBA world is rightfully obsessed with Golden State’s chances at taking down Chicago’s record 72-10 mark from 1995-96, and James was asked about his own prospects at possibly being part of a record-approaching team:
“You’ve got to have talent, man. You gotta have talent. You gotta have talent. That’s the No. 1 thing,” he said. “No matter if you’ve got the greatest system in the world, you gotta have talent to be able to equalize that and execute that. But I don’t know. It’d have been great to be on a team to win 70 games, it’s just another feat in your career.”
James has “only” hit 66 wins twice in his career, and it stands as his top mark. Somehow, he did it with the Cavaliers in 2009, and (in another “somehow”) his 2013 Heat only won 66 games despite winning 27 contests in a row.
This year’s Cavalier outfit is on pace for 61 wins, and they remain a rock solid favorite if there ever was one to glide out of the (improved, admittedly) East and into the Finals. Yes, it’s important to establish habits in November that you can fall back on in June and, yes, this team can’t be strolling around the Eastern seaboard like defending world champs, but the Cavs can’t get too frustrated at things like this – “things like this” that come this early.
Mo Williams may have been lying when he called the aftermath against Toronto “just another game,” but at times this might be a perspective worth clinging to.
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