INDEPENDENCE — Isaiah Thomas said it’s time for the Cavaliers’ pride to kick in.
It’s not just that they host the defending champion Golden State Warriors, their opponent in the past three NBA Finals, tonight at Quicken Loans Arena.
The Cavs (26-16) have lost eight of their last 11. Going into Sunday’s action, they were third in the Eastern Conference, seven games behind the Boston Celtics and four games out of the eighth spot. While they rank fifth in the league in offensive efficiency, they have slipped to 29th in defensive efficiency.
The Warriors (35-9) have won 12 consecutive games on the road, a string that dates back to a Nov. 22 setback at Oklahoma City. They are first in the league in offensive efficiency and third in defensive efficiency.
The Warriors also won this season’s first meeting 99-92 on Christmas Day at Oracle Arena. Since then, the Cavs have dropped seven of nine and have scored 100 points only once.
As Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said after Sunday’s practice at Cleveland Clinic Courts, “We’ve got to get up. If not, it’ll be embarrassing.”
Thomas will play just his fifth game as a Cav in his return from a torn labrum in his right hip. But he was vocal during his time on the bench while rehabbing, even if it meant telling his new teammates what they didn’t want to hear.
Acquired from the Celtics in the Aug. 22 Kyrie Irving trade, Thomas saw the Cavs start 5-7, then win 18 out of 19 in a November and December surge that included a franchise-tying 13-game winning streak.
When asked if the Cavs’ pride needs to kick in tonight, Thomas said, “It needs to now. We’re in no way in panic mode. It’s only January … but we got to be prideful.
We got to take anything we do that’s not good on the court, take that serious and look in the mirror and see what you can do to help this team win. I think guys know that.
“At the beginning of the year we didn’t play well and for everybody else it was … the end of the world. Then we ran off 18 out of 19 and everybody loved us. Now we’re back to how we started and we just got to get ourselves out this hole.”
The Warriors are expected to have guard Stephen Curry, who re-sprained his right ankle before Wednesday night’s loss to the Los Angeles Clippers and did not play in Friday’s victory at Milwaukee. He returned Saturday at Toronto and scored 24 points in 34 minutes of a two-point win.
He’s averaged 33.3 points and made 35 3-pointers in the six games he’s played since he first returned from the injury.
Thomas looks forward to going against Curry, the two-time league MVP.
“One of the top guards in the world. … It goes back to when I used to play for the Kings, (and) we always used to battle,” Thomas said of his first three years in the league. “It’s fun playing against really great competition. It’s tough to play against him, but at the same time he’s got to guard up, too.”
After a loss Friday night at Indiana to conclude a 1-4 road trip, LeBron James said the Warriors don’t present more of a challenge because of the current state of the Cavs.
“It doesn’t change. You could win a hundred straight games and face the Warriors and there are still challenges,” James said.
While the Warriors defense would seem to be the most troublesome, Kevin Love said Friday, “It’s everything now, especially since they have Steph back. He puts them in a whole different category.”
Lue said he believes returning home, with eight of their next 11 games at The Q, will help the Cavs’ struggling offense. On the road trip, they hit 42.1 percent from the field, including 29.9 from 3-point range. Three times during the trip they failed to make 10 3-pointers, a number they have reached in 35 of their 42 games.
Thomas seemed to have a good idea of why the Cavs offense has slowed down.
“If we get stops then nobody can stop us offensively because we get out and run and it’s hard to stop,” Thomas said. “We have really good players. When we don’t get stops that makes us get in the half court and we get stagnant. We play isolation basketball and we have to do a better job of moving bodies.
“Even if we do isolate we have to move bodies and keep guys occupied on the defensive end, on the weak side, strong side. We can’t just sit and watch … it’s easy to guard. I think if we make those adjustments of moving bodies, setting screens — even fake movement is good movement. It’s just keeping the defense honest and occupied. I think if we do that, if we just put it all together we will win some games and we will get it back.”
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