INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — The Cavs have a bit of a focus problem right now.
It’s not just J.R. Smith, though he happens to be the ski mask-wearing, Jason Terry-hugging, 3-for-29-shooting team member right now.
And it’s not even Cleveland’s 17-point loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday, though it was the Cavs’ largest defeat of the year and they did cough up 68 points in the paint.
They canceled practice on Monday, went to the Ohio State-Michigan football game Saturday instead of practicing, and on Friday canceled shootaround before playing the Dallas Mavericks. And when they have practiced, coach Tyronn Lue said recently that they haven’t been very good.
Masked by a scorching 13-3 start and with the Larry O’Brien trophy still hogging most of their rearview mirrors, the Cavs’ focus has waned a bit over the past week, something Lue admitted on practice Wednesday ahead of Cleveland’s showdown against the Los Angeles Clippers (8 p.m., TNT). He said he’ll make sure the players are working hard enough (no more skipping practice for a while) and the guys need to be “professional.”
“When you have a team that’s a championship team and you went to two straight Finals, you’ve been doing the same thing for three years, it gets redundant,” Lue said. “With the team we have, a bunch of veteran guys, rightfully so. But you still have to do the drills, continue to get better, you still have to go through offensive sets you’ve been working on, continuing to work on execution, and the guys know it so they get bored with it sometimes. Rightfully so.”
Lue, who was actually happy with the way the Cavs practiced Wednesday, said the team had to “continue to have practice and not take it for granted, having days off. Just being professional.
“We only work 40 minutes a day, at the most,” Lue said. “Just come in, be professional, don’t take it for granted, just continue to get those habits. Then when we do that, we can back it off again.”
Lue discusses J.R.’s “embarrassing moment”
Again, Smith is the poster child for this because he momentarily lost his mind Tuesday night. With 2:57 left in the second quarter, Smith walked to the Bucks’ bench to hug it out with backup guard Jason Terry while play was going on — leading to an uncontested dunk by his man, Tony Snell. Then after the game he pretended like he didn’t remember the play and thought he was out of the game at that point, all while wearing a ski mask.
On Wednesday Smith said he and Lue had a deeper discussion in which they pinpointed Smith’s bad night against the Bucks as one example of Cavs’ slippage that is more widespread.
“As a team we haven’t been as focused as we previously were,” Smith said. “Winning and being who we are has a lot to do with that, but we’ve just got to overcome that and be better as a whole. It starts as individuals and then we can collectively become a group and team and have that mindset.”
Smith said too many players — himself included — had fallen into a false sense of comfort because of the presence and play of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love. Each member of the Big 3 had been exemplary of late, from Love’s 40-point game last week, to Irving’s 39-point outing Sunday to James’ two triple-doubles in a span of three games.
Virtually no player puts in as much work as James, and as a group Irving, James, and Love are expected to put up huge numbers, but Smith’s point was that Cleveland’s Big 3 could be a little more lax with off days because of its talent. The rest of the players can’t, or shouldn’t, do that.
“We’ve got to understand for guys like myself, we can’t be the Bron-Kevin-Ky who can have that mindset,” Smith said. “We have to be those guys, the ‘worker ants.’ We have to put that work in even more and have their back even more and have their back even more.”
Reserve forward Richard Jefferson put perhaps a little different spin on the goings on around Cavsland lately. He said “we look at it from a standpoint of we never really lose, we just have lessons that we learned.”
In essence, the Cavs learned from this that they shouldn’t mess around quite so much.
“Kind of our mindset,” Jefferson said. “Kind of seeing things happen before they actually transpire, whether it’s just hey guys, we’ve had a bad couple of days of practice let’s lock in. You remember the last time that this happened.”