Los Angeles (AFP) – Cleveland superstar LeBron James says the Cavs must find a way to snap out of their downward spiral before they can even entertain the idea of a fourth straight trip to the NBA Finals.
“Playoffs? We can’t even start thinking about that, not the way we’re playing right now,” James said after the Oklahoma City Thunder humbled the Cavs 148-124 on their home floor on Saturday.
“We could easily get bounced early in the playoffs if they started next weekend.”
Oklahoma City’s 148 points matched the most ever surrendered by the Cavs.
Point guard Isaiah Thomas called it “embarrassing” and Cleveland’s ninth defeat in 12 games had questions swirling as to whether changes were coming, with James asked whether he thought coach Tyronn Lue’s job was in jeopardy.
“I would hope not, but really don’t know,” James said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen with our team. I have no idea what conversations have been going on.
“I’ve been trying to stay as laser-sharp as I can to keep my guys ready to go out and play.”
The Cavaliers’ 27-18 record still puts them third in the Eastern Conference — one half-game in front of the Miami Heat in a tightly bunched field.
And the Cavs have survived mid-season turmoil to power through to the Finals before, including in their championship 2015-16 campaign.
But to contend in the playoffs they’ll have to step up a defense that prior to the Thunder blowout had seen them surrender 133 points to the Toronto Raptors and 127 to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The aging Cavs rank 29th in defensive efficiency in the 30-team league, and veteran Dwyane Wade said their weaknesses were exploited by the Thunder, who had 36 points from Paul George, 29 from Carmelo Anthony and a near triple-double of 23 points, 20 assists and nine rebounds from Russell Westbrook.
“We’re not the best individual defensive team anyway, but we’re not doing a good job helping each other,” Wade said. “With guys that can score like Paul and Russ, Melo, you can’t have moments where you’re not communicating… we’ve got to figure it out together.”