The individual achievement should be a big deal. The King, after all, is also the only player to notch 30,000 points, 7,000 rebounds, and 7,000 assists in league history. He even congratulated his younger self on social media, hours before even accomplishing the feat. Although LeBron would've liked a favorable outcome to go with his special night.
His personal milestone coincided with a 114-102 loss to the San Antonio Spurs missing Kawhi Leonard. This has been pretty much the story for every Cleveland Cavaliers game these days: get ahead early, only to lose steam in the end. Which is quite suprising after this reloaded squad was projected to make another dominant run to the Finals this year.
If you aren't up to speed, the Cavs have won only four of their last 15 games. Those victories aren't something to be proud of, too, given the average margin of 2.7 points versus the lowly Chicago Bulls and Orlando Magic. Cleveland did beat the Portland Trail Blazers on January 2, 127-110, which was Isaiah Thomas' debut.
All seems fine, judging from their first game of the year—what a way to start 2018 with the return of another MVP candidate, right? But since then, Cleveland has suffered double-digit defeats at the hands of the Celtics (14), Golden State Warriors (10), and San Antonio Spurs (12), and utter blowouts against the heavy contenders Minnesota Timberwolves (28), Toronto Raptors (34), and Oklahoma City Thunder (24).
In 10 January matches, the Cavaliers are dead last in defensive rating (114.4), net rating (-10.1), defensive rebounding percentage (71.6), rebounding percentage (45.4), and three-point percentage (30.1). They have also been horrible on the other side of the floor; 20th in three-point makes (9.5), 23rd in offensive rating (104.3), and 25th in offensive rebounding percentage (20.1).
Statistics reinforce their defensive and rebounding flaws, but same goes with the eye test. It's obvious that Isaiah Thomas hasn't fully recovered yet. Jae Crowder hasn't played this bad since his rookie season. Tristan Thompson and JR Smith aren't the perfect role players they used to be. Those Dwyane Wade and James connections aren't as great. And what more can you expect from an injury-plagued Derrick Rose and inconsistent Jeff Green?
Then there's the drama about having personal agendas and Kevin Love "faking it." Who knows, Coach Tyron Lue might be given the David Blatt treatment (the European coach was axed around this time in 2016). Cleveland being attached to almost every trade rumor—from DeAndre Jordan to George Hill—also creates an air of uncertainty inside the locker room. On top of these distractions is LeBron's future with the team.
Here's the thing, though. The front office can tinker with their personnel all they want, but if the players themselves are lackadaisical and unmotivated, any move will be for naught. Maybe it has something to do with their rotation being old as dirt (average age: 30), but having the second-best pace in January (103.13) doesn't seem to work for the Cavs. For a veteran-laden group, they look like an inexperienced collective.
LeBron putting up huge numbers and telling reporters not to worry can only do so much. We've seen him put teams on his back (2007 and 2015 Cavaliers, 2014 Miami Heat) and guess how that turned out? It's up to the rest of the squad to return to form and pick up the slack midseason. A grittier style of play from a bunch of old heads might just be the key for Cleveland to turn things around.
Hopefully, it won't be too late to address these issues or an early playoff exit isn't too farfetched.