The makeup made him unrecognizable. He was menacing, frightening.
Lately, James and his Cavaliers teammates haven’t scared anyone on the floor.
With four losses in their past five games, defensive issues, injuries and new players still trying to figure things out, the Cavs had a lengthy meeting on Tuesday before they practiced. It was a chance to clear the air and perhaps reset a season for a team that hasn’t come close to playing up to its potential.
“The slow start that we’ve had prompted us to just all get on the same page and kind of figure out what we need to do,” center Kevin Love said. “I feel like we can get in better shape, that’s going to help us on the defensive end. Communication, energy and just getting the new guys adjusted. So time will tell how it’s going to play out, but we have a lot of really good positive energy from today, so, it was a great practice.”
After a night of connecting in costume, the Cavs, who host Indiana on Wednesday, didn’t hide their problems during their pre-practice discussion that coach Tyronn Lue described as a “long talk.”
“Off the court we’ve got great chemistry, great bond,” Lue said. “On the court we just gotta be better. Like, talking, communicating, enjoying the game together. Having fun. Right now guys are not having fun.”
There isn’t much to smile about.
Following losses to Orlando, Brooklyn, New Orleans and New York in the past 10 days, the Cavs are ranked near the bottom of the NBA in defense and are giving up nearly 14 3-pointers per game. They’re coming off losses by a combined 41 points in their past two games, prompting Lue to say that James, who missed much of the preseason with an ankle injury, and others need to get in better shape.
Cleveland’s transition defense has been brutal, and Lue said some of that may be due to conditioning. He pushed the Cavs hard at both ends during Tuesday’s workout and noticed a change.
“Watching us today, damn,” Lue said. “It’s a big difference. I’m screaming play with pace, and move the ball, move bodies, we got to get in better shape to do that.”
James sprained his left ankle during Cleveland’s second practice in training camp and only played in one exhibition. Although he hasn’t shown any major decline in his game, the 32-year-old is not having the impact Lue needs James to have on the defensive end.
It’s hard to ask him for more, but Lue has no choice.
“Missing the whole training camp and getting hurt the second day of practice really set him back as far as being able to fly around and push the pace offensively and defensively fly around,” Lue said. “He’s trying to work himself back in shape, but the games are coming so fast and it’s hard to really do that. The best way to do that is by him playing more minutes and getting in game shape and we just got to go from there.”
Lue knew this would take time. With Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, Jeff Green and Jae Crowder among the new players on Cleveland’s roster this season, there were bound to be growing pains. Lue just didn’t expect them to hurt this much.
However, Lue has confidence the group is beginning to gel.
“They’ve been in winning situations,” he said. “We’re just trying to figure it out. Today’s start of film and practice, I think guys are getting a clear understanding of what they need to do.”
As the Cavs work out the kinks, they were able to relax at James’ party, which has become a social media must-see-event.
Love shaved off his beard and endured a long makeup session to dress up as WWE wrestler Sting. Kyle Korver was the Johnny Depp version of Willy Wonka, and Wade and his wife, Gabrielle Union, went as pop lip-synching sensations Milli Vanilli.
“I think it was good for us,” Love said. “I think it definitely lightened the mood and it was definitely a get-to-know-you moment with a lot of guys. We all get along, have fun, but I think in some odd way it will definitely help us.”
At this point, it can’t hurt the Cavs.