Yesterday, LeBron James and his unrealized juggernaut, the Cleveland Cavaliers, lost to Dwayne Wade and a Bosh-less Miami Heat.
The game was strange. True, the Cavaliers just lost their only line of at-the-basket defense, Anderson Varejao, to a season-ending Achilles injury, but Varejao was hardly the key component of a team we expected to rip through all contenders.
This team still sports LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson and a smattering of aging, yet capable veteran players.
The Cavs should not have been undone by Miami’s comparatively meager offerings of Wade, Luol Deng, Birdman, and, uh, Danny Granger?
The game ping-ponged back and forth, but Miami looked like the better team throughout.
They consistently attacked the basket, confident no Cavalier would be able to turn them away, while the Cavaliers looked stilted, frequently settling for fancy-dribble isolations that resulted in contested mid-range jumpers.
Miami’s offense flowed from one player to the next. They reversed the floor and opened up new driving lanes with their movement. The Cavs succeeded in swinging the ball around on a couple of transcendent possessions, but these would be the exception.
Many times, the ball stuck in hands as players cut, but were unrewarded with the basketball.
The team moved, but the ball didn’t. It seemed the Cavaliers weren’t willing to give up their own opportunities, even if a teammate had a better shot at the basket.
We are only a third of the way through the season, and the Cavaliers have been playing quite well recently, winning 13 of their last 17 games, but yesterday sure seemed like a sign of worrisome things to come.
It is unlikely the Cavs will be able to replace the defensive stoutness of Varejao, which means they will have to run teams off the floor with flurries of offense, but despite stacking their team with dudes who are really good at putting the ball in the basket, they are only 10th in the league in points per game.
At the beginning of the season, fans salivated over the possibility of LeBron getting a true point guard, Kyrie getting all-star teammates and Love just getting the hell out of Minnesota.
We figured the long-held desires of these players had finally been met and so a basketball utopia would immediately congeal, but the Cavs seem reluctant to share the rock, ranking ninth in the league in assists.
The team we tabbed as title favorites are just sort of above average, and it’s depressing. Watching the game yesterday, I felt robbed of the otherworldly basketball experience I had been promised back in late October.
The Cavs and LeBron’s first-year Heat are an easy comparison, but the biggest difference between the two is that LeBron went to Miami to play with his friends, but he returned to Cleveland to play for his city. Yes, Cleveland had the talent to entice him, but LeBron doesn’t have the same giddiness to play with Kyrie and Kevin as he did with Bosh and Wade.
Unlike the Cavs, the Heat always seemed to enjoy playing together. Even during their early struggles, ‘Bron, Wade and Bosh seemed like they wouldn’t rather be playing anywhere else.
Sometimes, this companionship resulted in overblown predictions (see “Not two, not three, not four…“), but these were uber-stars beloved by an entire city, so we could excuse them for hubris.
The Cavs play together like stepchildren from four different families brought together by their remarried parents at an ill-conceived holiday party. It’s awkward. Yesterday, LeBron yelled at Love and Dion Waiters.
He looked chilly towards Kyrie but was buddy-buddy with Wade, giving him a big hug before tip-off, and cracking jokes at half like Sweet Dick Willy & Co. from “Do the Right Thing.”
At the end of the game, after LeBron had just launched two 28-foot “F-This” three0pointers in an unsuccessful comeback attempt, he looked over toward the smirking, victorious Miami Heat bench.
One couldn’t help but feel an intense longing in LeBron’s gaze. Make no mistake, LeBron chose correctly when he left Miami. He would have been forced to carry the Heat to any sort of relevancy and Cleveland’s talent and “homecoming” publicity proved to be an irresistible option.
But, LeBron wasn’t looking at the current, dilapidated state of the Miami Heat; he was looking at the past.
He was thinking about the memories of playing with his best buds in a perpetually sunny climate, amidst the fanfare of a teenage boy band.
LeBron called Miami his college years, and to continue the comparison, Cleveland is the job he landed in his hometown, where he still hasn’t quite gelled with his co-workers.
He had the same wistfulness in his eyes as a former frat star sitting in his cubicle reminiscing about shirtless games of beer die. But, those days are over and never to return.
LeBron needs to let go of the past, embrace his current situation and get to work.