CHRIS GRANTLAND: PLAYOFF READY KNICKS MAUL CAVALIERS

The Cavs are engaged in an internal battle against time to finish out the season before the season finishes them.   Over the last two weeks, they’ve clawed their way from total collapse mode to win two games in a row, one against an actual good team and one against a team even further from contention.  They got screwed by referees in Indiana and witnessed the emergence of the NBA’s next great big man in Detroit.

Last night the Cleveland Cavaliers waged war with the surging New York Knicks and strong NBA MVP Candidate Carmelo Anthony.  Anyone who wanted to attend the game fought traffic compounded by the Cleveland Indians playing about 200 yards away at newly renamed Brogressive Field, where Nick Swisher’s game winning single edged the White Sox and airplane gestures rounding first base sent jet fuel fire into the otherwise crisp Cleveland air.

Inside Quicken Loans Arena, on the bench, the players still throw up the reverse high five, the coaches still draw up plays and Kyrie Irving continues to electrify on offense, wrapping passes around Knicks, igniting scoring runs with feathery jump shots.  Inside Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland basketball fans and Kyrie Irving have sent a message through his comeback that they are ready to play for and cheer for a competitive basketball team that could give the Knicks, a team primed for a deep playoff run, an actual game. 

Last night, despite yet another strong effort from Tristan Thompson, and a slew of Irving plays that seemed to defy all known facts and laws of physics and gravity there was again not enough effort to overcome the deficit of talent that faced them.  The Knicks are what a team priming itself for the playoff looks like.  The Cavs are what a team ambling to the end of a season towards a top five lottery pick looks like.  One team will be defined by the NBA playoffs, another team will be defined by which pick it takes in the lottery.

It seemed that there was a point in the second quarter when Friday night’s game was decided when the Knicks extended a ten point lead on a 13 point run driven by Carmelo Anthony (who drew faint “M-V-P chants at one point during the game) and the explosive shooting of Knick shooting guard J.R. Smith, who finished 13 for 16 from the floor.  Here, in a season where the Cavaliers have set the historical mark of 20 point losses by somehow losing 4 games after managing a 20 point lead, the manta of keeping the game within 10 points at the end of quarters has become a sad standard by which to measure games, and down 14, the Cavaliers would never recover.

At Quicken Loans Arena, there will come a time, not long from now, when it will be unthinkable to for Tristan Thompson to receive absolutely no help whatsoever offensively in the paint, where Tyler Zeller and Maureese Speights, perhaps still fatigued after being outmuscled by the Detroit Pistons frontcourt, combined for zero points on 0-6 shooting last night.    This frontcourt, outside of Thompson, has been humbled two games in a row.   Even with the addition of the often injured starting center Varejao, this is not what a playoff ready frontcourt looks like.

Tomorrow, the now 24-55 Cavaliers face the 32-47 Sixers in Philadelphia where head coach Doug Collins is truly embattled at the end of a disastrous conclusion to the season, a true disaster rather than the pain of a rebuild that should end soon.  You know that this game should be about Philadelphia native Dion Waiters return from the personal reasons that stalled his comeback from knee problems that kept him sidelined until the Detroit game.  You know that this team is aware, with just three games left in this season, that the core players, the organization and its head coach must see an urgency to move into the next stage of rebuilding, out of the draft lottery, beyond the regular season, to connect the wintery crisp April air into summer nights.

 

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