INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — The Cleveland Cavaliers didn’t actually glue stamps to their foreheads Tuesday night in a listless and dismal 118-101 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, but they mailed that sucker in all right.
Posted COD and paid for upon its delivery by the ticket-buyers of Milwaukee, it seemed to be an anomaly, as shocking in its own way, despite the vastly longer schedule, as a loss by Ohio State’s football team.
The lowest light on a dim night
The poor effort was absurdly low-lighted by an AWOL moment by shooting guard J.R. Smith.
Smith was in the midst of the maddening fraternization that too often characterizes NBA games, hugging veteran Bucks guard Jason Terry, who was on the bench. Smith’s man, Tony Snell, alertly raced to the rim for a dunk.
Just to be clear, Terry was not in the game, J.R, was, although that seemed to be news to Smith. He has now made three of his last 29 shots over the past three games, so Smith’s excuse that he was unaware he was on the floor and had not in fact been benched might be understandable.
Benching of all the starters by fed-up coach Tyronn Lue came in the third quarter.
No duels from these guys
Current NBA-TV analyst Fred Carter told me years ago, when I covered the Philadelphia 76ers and did a story on their dunk-centric approach to offense, “A dunk is like a slap in the face. A slap in the face is worse than a punch in the face.”
The Cavs were therefore slapped in the face more often Tuesday night than the fellows who were challenged to duels in the old days during their lifetime use of pistols and swords.
Protocol called for the slap to be delivered with a glove the offended party removed and with which he smote the offender. This was rare, however.
Also, the Bucks had no gloves and the Cavs offended primarily Lue’s concept of basketball.
Skip the usual excuses
I have been around the NBA since 1974, so I know these kinds of games happen.
The usual excuses, however, do not apply.
The Cavs were not on getaway night after a long West Coast swing.
They had been on the road four days, counting their stopover in Columbus for Saturday’s Ohio State-Michigan football game, which was followed by a sloppy win at lower-tier Philadelphia on Sunday.
The Cavs were not on the second game of a back-to-back.
LeBron James was not given the night off in the interest of rest, which was the reason for the team’s recent loss in Indianapolis.
It was the almost inevitable result of a schedule that calls for too many games when everybody knows it all comes down to how the Cavs play in the spring, and, probably even more specifically, to how they play against the Golden State Warriors in June in the likely third straight NBA Finals between the teams.
Do the Cavs need a game like this?
The Cavs suffered an abysmal 132-98 loss at home to the Warriors last January, which led in part to coach David Blatt’s firing and Lue’s promotion.
The Cavs went on to win it all, of course, perhaps spurred further by losses in the first two games of the NBA Finals on the Warriors’ floor by a total of 48 points.
Some kind of positive response against the powerful Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday night at The Q is not only likely but almost guaranteed by the championship culture on the team.
Also because the game is on TNT for the everyone in the country with cable to see.
Joe Maddon and Joltin’ Joe
What will the rallying cry be?
Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon said to star infielder Javy Baez before his debut in September of 2015: “Try not to suck.”
It became a slogan for the Cubs as they beat the Cleveland Indians in the World Series this year.
That has resonance after Tuesday night.
But there was also the response Joe DiMaggio made, when asked why he played so hard. “Because somebody might be in the stands who never saw me play before or never will again,” he said.
I know. Different time. Different world. More’s the pity.