Cavs Streaking, Won't Fret over Celtics, Standings Until 'After All-Star Break'November 21, 2017
DETROIT — It was the type of win the Cleveland Cavaliers needed in the worst way, a 116-88 thrashing of the surprising Pistons in downtown Detroit, in a game that didn't feel as close as the 28-point spread indicated Monday.
It was the type of message the Cavaliers needed to send to themselves, which is they could dominate a game the teams of recent Cavaliers vintage would make quick work of.
It was also the type of game LeBron James needed for his body and mind, along with the minds of any contenders hoping to come out of the Eastern Conference this spring.
"We haven't had a win like this in a very long time," James said. "We come out sometimes slow in the third quarter and we get slow starts and teams get back into it. Today we just kept it going. It's a pretty big step for us."
While the rest of the NBA world was focused Monday on the Boston Celtics earning their 16th straight win with an overtime victory over Dallas, the Cavs are merely chugging along with a fifth straight win.
And maybe they're finding themselves after some early-season turbulence.
"It's been a while but over the last 6-7 games, we're starting to come together offensively and defensively," head coach Tyronn Lue said. "Moving the ball and making the extra pass."
When you have James as your main piece, it can make missing your starting point guard (Isaiah Thomas) and backup point guard (Derrick Rose) look like mere footnotes.
"We've been playing well of late, in a good groove," James said.
Mature enough to recognize the schedule will create anomalies, this wasn't a devastating statement game meant to send shock waves through the East.
It meant more to themselves that this old team with new parts can look like a dominant one, that it can summon performances on call.
"Yes. We want some more like this, right? In the midst of this five-game winning streak, to have one like this, we've won different ways," Dwyane Wade told B/R. "It's better to win this way on the road. We're trending the right way."
At 10-7, the Cavs haven't taken too many games seriously this year with many of their core having gone to the NBA Finals the last three years. So pardon them if they have the blinders on for a few more weeks before truly gearing up.
"Nah," JR Smith told B/R when asked if they're paying attention to the league-leading Celtics. "It's too early. Too early. We don't start paying attention until after All-Star break when you see teams spacing out (in the standings). You start getting your best shot after the All-Star break.”
Smith cautioned, however, the Cavs can't spend too much time playing catchup or it can come back to bite them in April, May and June.
"Last year we were coming off winning a championship (in 2016) and we got ahead of ourselves," Smith said. "We should've been the one seed but Boston had a good year. We took steps further back when we shouldn't have."
One potential landmine this year could be James' usage as he leads the league in minutes for the second straight year—passing the 40,000-minute career mark last year. There's a concern that for as well as James is playing—shooting a career-high in field-goal percentage, three-point percentage and the foul line—that he won't have enough fuel when the games truly matter.
Lue, clearly feeling himself after listening to conversations about James over the past few days, pulled some impressive names out of his memory book in his postgame session with the media.
"I hear about that all the time," Lue said. "I played with Michael Jordan when he was 39; he played 37 minutes a night (with the Wizards). Karl Malone was 37, played 38 minutes a night...Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Kobe [Bryant]. Everybody's built different. If you're one of the greats, sometimes you've got to play, sometimes you get rest like tonight."
It was almost as if James was ready to single-handedly shift the narrative to the next subject, using the Pistons as his muse and the backdrop of playing in downtown Detroit for the first time as his playground.
He toyed with the team that had visions of ascending through the conference and played a season-low 27 minutes to do it.
James made six of his first seven shots from the field and didn't have to exert as much energy as he danced around the perimeter, calmly knocking down jumpers as opposed to his thunderous attacks on the rim that leaves defenses in tatters.
James told B/R, "I wouldn't be able to play like that all game (taking easy jumpers)," but his work was done so efficiently and so swiftly, a cold streak didn't matter because the game was over after a 36-23 first quarter.
The ever-comical Smith said James' easy night could be attributed to his hard work on the defensive end.
"He not guarding nobody," Smith joked. "I'm guarding everybody. He's chilling. He can just go score. He ain't running around chasing nobody for 40 minutes. I do the defense."
All that's needed is for the role to be flipped, right?
"Give everybody the ball, get triple-doubles. All I need is the ball."
An amusing scene took place in the visiting locker room following the game. Wade was explaining if the type of minutes that's played matters as much as the sheer number before James caught wind and joined in.
"Are all 40-minute (games) created equal?" James repeated.
Wade elaborated: "If you play 40 minutes and you're banging around, or you play 40 minutes, an easy up-and-down? You still play 40 but it's different."
James: "Forty minutes in a playoff game and 40 in a regular-season game is totally different. For me and him, we don't just sit on the perimeter. We're slashing."
Wade: "It's different. It's definitely different. If you're a shooter, running from corner to corner, it's definitely different. If you're getting in the paint, making plays, it's different."
The words from champions, men who know how to pace their bodies and their teams with the big picture in mind.
"I mean, it makes such a big deal about my minutes, but it's not a big issue," James said to the media. "When we get a win like this, everybody benefits. Not just me. Everybody."