INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — The Cleveland Cavaliers could create a long list of excuses for their wretched 1-11 start.
Few teams deal with that much chaos — much self-inflicted, with a healthy mix of bad luck — in a whole season, let alone one month.
But it’s fruitless. They know that. An Eastern Conference champion four years running, no one is going to feel sorry for them. Complaining won’t lead to wins. Lamenting the players they don’t have, including five that won’t play Tuesday night against the Charlotte Hornets, won’t either.
“We’re playing the hand we’ve been dealt and we’re making no excuses,” head coach Larry Drew said Monday. “Our guys are still going out there on the court and they’re laying it on the line. To hear them say that we’re close even as depleted as we have been this season, they still believe they can win. I’m very happy to hear them say that, I’m very encouraged to hear them say that. It just tells me these guys are committed to getting it together, regardless of what our injury situation may be or whatever the situation may be.”
Cleveland’s situation isn’t ideal. This year was always going to be a grind, a struggle to reach the oddsmakers’ projected win total, which hovered right around 30.
Making the playoffs was a goal, one that many in the organization knew was always a long shot. In honest moments, some even admitted it was far more likely for the Cavs to pivot midseason and start sending veterans out for draft picks or more youngsters to add to this growing core than it was for them to sneak into the backend of the postseason picture.
But this? How are the Cavs supposed to stay competitive without five rotation players, including Kevin Love, who was — and still is — the team’s most important player, the one guy the Cavs can not afford to be without for lengthy stretches?
Tonight, Love will be joined on the sidelines by George Hill, Sam Dekker, Kyle Korver and Cedi Osman — all held out for a variety of injuries. JR Smith missed Monday’s practice because he was sick, but came to the facility, took part in today’s shootaround and is considered a go unless something changes ahead of tipoff.
That list of players sidelined includes the first-, fourth-, and sixth-leading scorers. It includes three players in the starting lineup to begin the season.
On Saturday night, Drew was forced to use a quintet of Andrew Harrison, Jordan Clarkson, Korver, David Nwaba and Ante Zizic. Harrison had one practice before suiting up for 14 minutes against the Bulls. Nwaba had played 57 total minutes in the 11 games before that. Drew also used his fifth starter at power forward, going to a two-big lineup with Tristan Thompson and Larry Nance Jr. together.
Who knows where Drew will turn Tuesday with so few options. Yet, the Cavs aren’t pouting. They aren’t making excuses. They are pressing forward, determined to snap a five-game losing streak.
“I think the fight is there,” Rodney Hood said. “A lot of times we’re undersized. Now with Larry in the starting lineup, we’re kind of big, but for the most part we have been undersized for most of the year. Just figuring that out. We’ve been fighting and scrapping and it’s tough most nights when you’re overmatched. But you just have to deal with it.”
The timing of these injuries may be the most unfortunate part. Few expect the Cavs to beat playoff teams like Oklahoma City and Denver, a pair the Cavs have matched up against in the last week-plus. The Los Angeles Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers, Houston Rockets, Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors are all on the schedule in the new few weeks. Tough to see wins against those teams, which means this losing skid could get lengthy.
On paper, their best chances were against Chicago and Orlando. The Cavs went down to the wire with both. Would the outcome have been different with a healthy Love? Or in Chicago, would Osman and Hill been more successful?
After Charlotte on Tuesday, the Cavs will have another crack at a possible victory before things get really dicey. On the second of a back-to-back, the Cavs will play the dysfunctional and perpetually-underachieving Washington Wizards.
But let’s not get too far ahead. One game at a time. The wins haven’t come just yet. Despite being overmatched most nights, the Cavs believe they will. Eventually.
“I’ve been through it before, early on in my career when you’re kind of in a rebuild, but (if) you’re playing to win, playing hard, the results will come,” Hood said. “I think that’s the frustrating part, we’re a results-driven league and you want to win every game, especially when we play well. But if we continue to fight, continue to play the game the right way, wins will come. I don’t know when, but they’ll come. Hopefully we start out tonight.”