NEW YORK — The Nets are fighting desperately just to make the postseason, while the Cavaliers have already clinched.
That didn’t necessarily explain why Brooklyn was able to come away with a 106-98 victory over Cleveland on Friday, especially after the Cavaliers looked so good in dismantling the Grizzlies in Memphis two days earlier by a whopping 21 points.
But despite the loss being relatively harmless for Cleveland as far as the postseason is concerned, it’s never something that’s going to become acceptable to LeBron James.
“You don’t chalk up losses,” he said, after finishing with 24 points on 8-of-15 shooting, to go along with nine assists, five rebounds and five steals. “It’s too hard to win in professional sports. You don’t chalk up none of it.”
The Atlanta Hawks clinched the number one playoff seed in the East with Friday’s win over Miami in combination with the Cavaliers’ loss, but Cleveland has known that would be likely for quite some time — so much so that head coach David Blatt said publicly that he was focusing on finishing in second place.
Cleveland had its chances in this one. The game was tied after three, but got away from the Cavaliers as their offense uncharacteristically devolved into possessions that began with either LeBron or Kyrie Irving dribbling at the top of the three-point arc, and ended after a failed attempt at running a pick-and-roll, or simply a forced jumper or a wild drive to the basket.
“It’s not one quarter,” Blatt said. “We just didn’t play well. I didin’t think we played as we normally do. It’s really hard to sit here and point out one thing, there were a lot of things that we didn’t do well. I didn’t think we played like ourselves today. And we paid for it.”
The Nets, meanwhile, played just as they’ve been now for much of the last eight games — six of which have been victories. That surge has helped them keep pace with the three other teams they’re fighting with for one playoff spot, a battle that likely won’t be over until the regular season is 100 percent finished.
Things are different, though, for these Cavaliers.
There are championship aspirations in Cleveland, and while a two-seed isn’t guaranteed, it is likely based on the way the standings look at the moment, with only eight more games left on their schedule.
But even though the success of this campaign won’t be determined for quite some time, LeBron simply refused to be dismissive of a relatively meaningless regular season loss.
“We’ll see the ways at the film (session) tomorrow what we didn’t do so well, and how you can get better from that,” James said. “But it’s too hard in this league to ever chalk up a loss.”