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On Wednesday night in Denver, the Nuggets put up 73 points in the first half on the Cavaliers and never looked back, cruising to a 126-113 victory over the defending NBA champions. With their defense once again offering little resistance to their opponent, many in the locker room were fed up following the loss, including LeBron James, who sounded off about his team’s toughness:
“It ain’t about a group. It’s about individuals,” James said after Cleveland allowed Denver to put up 73 points in the first half, score a whopping 70 points in the paint in the game and shoot 53.1 percent from the field and 42.3 percent from 3. “We’ve got to be more, just do more. It ain’t about no group. You can’t preach toughness. You’ve got to have it.”
“Personally? I had opportunities where I could have been better,” James said before firing back with a rebuttal. “Um, one thing about it: I always bring toughness to the game. I know that. That’s for sure.”
LeBron was fine, Kyrie was excellent, and the offense was rolling again, but LeBron knows they’re going to have to figure out the other end of the floor if they want to win another championship. Not only has their defense been poor all season, but it’s been getting worse, as ESPN’s Dave McMenamn noted after the loss to the Nuggets: “The Cavaliers allowed 104 points per 100 possessions in October and November (15th in the NBA), 106.2 in December (14th), 107.0 in January (14th), 109.8 in February (23rd) and 114 this month.”
Because they’ve been winning so much, we haven’t seen too many strong quotes like this from LeBron, or coach Tyronn Lue, who added:
“They came and just kicked our butt in every facet of the game,” Lue said. “Coaches, we got to be better, but players, they got to be better too. They got to be tougher. Got to [have] more urgency, and it comes from all of us. They got 3-point shots, they got points in the paint, they got offensive rebounds. They got, I mean, whatever they wanted. And we got to be better than that. It starts with the coaches, but the players got to look at themselves in the mirror too. They got to be more physical, they got to bring a physical presence, and they’ve got to take pride in guarding their man.”
With their lead on the Celtics for the No. 1 seed in the East down to only one game (though they’re still two games up in the loss column on Boston), it’s not surprising to see the frustration. They’ve been dealing with injuries, yes, but they’re fully healthy now and are still having trouble, especially on defense.
At 5-7 in March, only Memphis and Atlanta (both 4-8) have worse records in the month among teams currently in the playoff picture, and their 114 defensive rating in the month in better than only the lowly Los Angeles Lakers. Those stats are inflated a bit because the team basically conceding a few games by resting LeBron and Co., but still, it’s not a good sign. You want to be starting to peak this time of year, not trying to figure things out and wonder if your team is tough enough.
With a difficult schedule down the stretch, that still has four back-to-backs left to play, it will be interesting to see what Coach Lue decides to do. He’ll definitely want to get guys rest, but at the same time the team still has things to figure out on the defensive end, and you can’t fix the problems with your best players sitting.