CLEVELAND -- The Cavaliers aren't ready for the playoffs right now. The Golden State Warriors are.
That was the opinion shared by Cleveland small forward LeBron James prior to a Monday night game against the defending champion Warriors at Quicken Loans Arena, where the Cavs had won 13 straight games despite their recent struggles.
"You can win 100 straight games in a row and play Golden State and the challenge does not change," James said at the team's morning shootaround. "They're as great a team as you're going to face.
"It's going to take a little longer for us to get where we want to be. We're not the team we'd like to be when the postseason starts. If the playoffs started tomorrow for them, I think they'd be ready to go. For us, I don't think we'd be ready."
The Cavs had lost eight of their last 11 games prior to Monday, with James attributing part of the team's struggles to incorporating point guard Isaiah Thomas and re-acclimating big man Tristan Thompson.
"With everybody coming back, it kind of took some guys out of the rotation and put some guys in," the four-time league MVP said. "We're just all trying to get another rhythm.
"We've got to play better basketball. We can't allow us missing shots to be a deterrent to why we can't win ballgames. There's going to be games like that throughout the course of the season."
The Cavs entered Monday with a 26-16 record, which put them seven games back of Boston (34-10) and 3 1/2 behind Toronto (29-12) in the battle for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. Cleveland finished 51-31 a year ago and second to Boston in the East, but went 12-1 in the playoffs to reach The Finals for the third straight season.
Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue initially said the Cavs are still the best team in the East "because we've got the best player in the world." Moments later, without being prompted, he amended that statement to "We're not right now, but we will be the best team in the East."
Prior to their recent struggles, the Cavs had won 18 of 19 games, so James remains optimistic they can return to being a dominant team.
"We're just in a rough patch," he said. "Hopefully, we can get up out of it soon."
Warriors coach Steve Kerr, whose team beat the Cavs in the 2015 and ’17 Finals and lost to them in ’16, wasn't reading too much into Cleveland's current struggles.
"I am very aware that they have LeBron," he said. "We've played them in The Finals three straight years, and I guarantee there was a (struggling) moment like this (for the Cavs) in all three years."
Cavs center Kevin Love entered the Warriors game with 23 double-doubles, which tied for seventh in the league.
In Cleveland's Christmas Day loss at Golden State, Love had a season-high six 3-pointers en route to 31 points. He also had a season-high 18 rebounds while posting his third 30-15 game in 3 1/2 seasons with the Cavs and 30th of his career.
- The Cavs entered Monday on pace to set franchise season records for bench points per game at 41.1 (36.9 in 1991-92) and free throw percentage at .806 (.805 in 1991-92).
- The Cavs game was the third of a five-game road trip for the Warriors. They began the trek by winning in Milwaukee and Toronto.
Quotes of the day
- "They're the only team where it's a two-point game and you go to the bathroom and come back and they're up 15." -- Lue on the explosiveness of the Warriors.
- "There's 82 games, but certain games you circle. This is one of them." -- Kerr on playing the Cavs.
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- Playoffs? Playoffs? Tyronn Lue feels certain postseaon in Cavs' future despite recent struggles, overall dysfunction
- Failing to finish: Cavaliers fumble away fourth quarter, fall to Warriors for fourth straight loss and ninth in 12 games
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