SALT LAKE CITY — The Cleveland Cavaliers closed out the 2017 portion of their season with four losses in their past five games, thanks to a 104-101 defeat at the hands of the Utah Jazz on Saturday, and LeBron James celebrated his 33rd birthday by losing for the seventh straight time in Utah.
The current state of the Cavs caused James some concern, as they’ve seemingly lost their mojo — looking more like the team that started the season 5-7 than the one that reeled off 18 wins in a 19-game span following that.
“I don’t know where it kind of went wrong, but we have to figure it out, like we did the first time,” said James, who led Cleveland with 29 points, eight rebounds and six assists but also coughed up six turnovers.
In Cleveland’s past four losses, James has a total of 24 turnovers. What didn’t cause him anywhere near as much fret was the fact that his road woes in Utah continue. His teams are 2-10 in their past 12 games at Vivint Smart Home Arena (previously EnergySolutions Arena and, before that, the Delta Center; and yes, James’ struggles there span all three names). He hasn’t won in Utah since 2011.
“I don’t think at the end of my career people are going to say, ‘Oh, you know, LeBron did some great things but he lost eight in a row versus the Jazz,'” James said incredulously. “Nah. It is what it is. No one is going to remember that. I don’t think so. No.”
Nor will people remember the Cavs’ late-December problems should they get back on track in the new year. If Cleveland fans need signs of success on the horizon, look no further than Tristan Thompson‘s contributions on Saturday — the center had 11 points, five rebounds and two blocks in 20 minutes — as an encouraging development, after he missed most of the season with a calf injury.
“We’re 0-3 on this trip, but we’re in good shape,” said Cavs coach Tyronn Lue. “I like where we’re at at the end of 2017. We’ll be fine.”
The Cavs will get the day off Sunday before holding a practice on Monday with a planned 5-on-5 scrimmage to give Thomas another chance to get his rhythm back after not playing in a game in the past seven months because of a torn labrum in his hip. Then they host the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday, before going back on the road for a five-game, 11-day trip.
“You always look forward to having a great player back on your team,” Lue said of Thomas. “He’s been going through the process he’s going through. He came out [from Friday’s team scrimmage] feeling pretty good, so we’ll see what happens after that.”
Thompson, a major contributor on the Cavs’ past three NBA Finals teams, said there is urgency in the group.
“We hate losing and we’re guys that we take it to the chin, and obviously we’re pissed off and angry about it,” Thompson said. “But that means we just try to get better. It was a tough, rough trip for us, but we’re going home, playing against Portland on a back-to-back. We’ve got to protect home. And everyone says teams definitely come out a little sluggish, first game off a West Coast trip. But we can’t afford to have that, especially against a Portland team that likes to score a lot of points.”
Before James shifted his focus to the Blazers and 2018, there was a birthday cake in the cubby hole above his locker to enjoy and a couple of more hours to celebrate turning 33, which Jazz fans helped him with all game long through signs and even a “Happy Birthday” serenade.
“That was big time,” James said of the reception. “That was big time. Much respect to Jazz Nation and everyone here. I heard a lot of cheers when I was introduced. I heard a lot of cheers when I ran out on the floor. A lot of birthday, ‘Happy birthday’ signs, and they got the best of both worlds tonight. They got to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to me and their Jazz won. So that’s the icing on the cake for everyone here.”