ORLANDO, Fla. — Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue’s confidence didn’t come from the ESPN report Saturday night that his job is safe for the rest of the season.
No one in the organization told him that, anyway.
“I heard it on TV,” Lue said.
Despite what looks like a dire situation, Lue is unfazed by the fact the Cavs (30-21) are closer to ninth place and out of the playoffs in the Eastern Conference than they are to the top.
“We’re still going to make the playoffs. There’s no doubt about that,” Lue said after practice at the Orlando Volleyball Academy. “We’re still confident in that for sure.”
Going into Monday’s action, they were 7 1⁄2 games behind the East-leading Boston Celtics and five games out of ninth. That spot is currently held by the Detroit Pistons (25-26), who traded for Blake Griffin last week and have won three in a row, starting with a Jan. 30 victory over the Cavs.
After being blown out Saturday night at home by the Houston Rockets — the 32-point loss their second-worst of the season — Lue said he still believes the Cavs can be the best in the East.
“But I think our mindset has to change, what we’re really playing for. Are we playing to win or are we playing to look good?” he said Saturday. “We have to be tougher mentally and physically. I think when things get tough we have to be tougher.”
Going into tonight’s game against the Magic at Amway Center, the Cavs are 6-12 since Christmas. Since Jan. 8, they have lost four games by 24 points or more.
They have dropped eight consecutive games on national television, prompting LeBron James to say Saturday, “They should take us off every nationally televised game for the rest of the season. We haven’t played good ball and we get our butts kicked every time.”
They are 0-7 against the top five teams in the Western Conference. On Monday, a five-person panel dropped the Cavs to 11th in ESPN.com’s weekly power rankings.
Even though they are not playing anywhere near the level that got them to the last three NBA Finals, winning the championship in 2016, James said he thinks making the playoffs is still a given.
“I would hope so. I don’t think anybody’s here not to make the playoffs,” James said.
Asked if the team needs to be cognizant of how close it is to ninth in the East, James said, “I would hope not.”
Judging by Lue’s and players’ interaction with the media Monday, the Cavs were remarkably upbeat even though the trade deadline looms on Thursday.
“Living life,” Lue said of the mood.
The Cavs flew to Orlando, Fla., on Sunday afternoon. A Super Bowl party was held at the team hotel at an outdoor poolside bar that had seven televisions. While most who attended were coaches and staff members, Lue said Kyle Korver came and James showed up at halftime.
“Great Super Bowl. It was fun to be a fan of the sport last night, I’ll tell you that,” said James, who earlier this season said the Browns should have drafted injured Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz.
While the Cavs’ slump continues, with two of their six victories since Dec. 25 coming over the Magic, apparently there have been no speeches in front of the team from James, Lue or anyone else — at least not since the infamous finger-pointing session in the locker room at Cleveland Clinic Courts on Jan. 22.
“We prepare, we be professional and we go out and play,” James said. “At the end of the day, as bad as it’s looked of late, we’re still in a good position where we can play some good basketball going into the break and we want to try to control that.”
The Cavs have five games remaining before the All-Star break. After Orlando, they return home to host the Minnesota Timberwolves, who handed them a 28-point loss in Minneapolis on Jan. 8. Then comes a three-game road trip to Atlanta (16-37), Boston
(39-15) and Oklahoma City (30-24). In their last meeting with the Celtics, the Cavs fell by 14 on Jan. 3. The Cavs gave up 148 points to the Thunder and lost by 24 at home on Jan. 20.
Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr admitted after a Friday victory over Sacramento that his team is dying to get to the All-Star break, with the game Feb. 18 in Los Angeles.
“We’re limping to the finish line,” Kerr said. “But we’ve got to fight through it to the break and then we need to get the hell away from each other.”
While the Cavs would seem to be in the same situation, James didn’t share that sentiment.
“I don’t know. Who’s to say the break is going to be even better for us when we come back or it’s going to be a getaway from the game,” he said. “I’m not a fan of the break. I love to keep going — it’s just who I am, that’s how I prepare my mind and my body to keep going.
“I think everybody else kind of enjoys the ability to kind of decompress and get away from the game no matter how you’re playing at that point in time. As well as Golden State has played, you’ve heard them say they need a break. You can be playing as bad as we’ve been playing and people saying, ‘They need a break.’ It is what it is.”
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