Not sure what to make of a 94-87 loss Friday night to the Bobcats. I mean, LeBron James and the Cavaliers were supposed to roll into Charlotte and easily handle the team that Michael Jordan has built.
I could see a loss if the James Gang had been coming off back-to-back games, but that wasn't the case. The Cavaliers had been off a few days, and unless the gang overindulged on turkey and dressing, they should have feasted on a team like the Bobcats.
Now, I know a loss in late November isn't worth fretting. What does it mean, really? Let the Cavs put together, say, an eight- or nine-game winning streak, and this loss to the Bobcats will mean about as much as a midseason loss last season does this season.
Yet there are troubling trends to be put under a microscope. Those trends ought to worry any Cavaliers fan. No, the trends have nothing to do with the ineffective play of the foul-proned LeBron done the stretch. He was absent in prime time, OK -- no arguments there. But his ineffectiveness highlighted a team's shortage of scoring options. When LeBron went cold as a Cleveland winter, so did the Cavaliers.
With the first month of the NBA season almost done, coach Mike Brown hasn't found a way to weave Shaquille O'Neal into the offensive mix. Shaq's bum shoulder hasn't made Brown's task easier, a fact LeBron acknowledged. Brown has also had to figure out how the other new pieces should work -- their strengths and weaknesses. Until Brown does, the Cavs will be a beatable team.
Beatable, yeah. But by the Bobcats?
"Charlotte did their job frustrating us," Brown said in his postgame interview. "But give those guys credit ... for taking care of their home court and getting the win."
That's the most unsettling thought , even if it's not a thought that falls under the category of troubling. For a good team like the Cavaliers -- a rested team -- can't lose to the Bobcats -- on the road or at home. The Cavaliers should fatten their win-loss record on the NBA weaklings.
But in this loss, LeBron and his teammates got schooled. They were outworked, and the Bobcats showed a quickness, a toughness and a fluidity in their offense that was absent in the Cavaliers. The Bobcats also had a more steadier hand on the bench in coach Larry Brown than the Cavaliers had with Mike Brown.
Obviously, Mike Brown is no Larry Brown. He's no Rick Carlisle or Doc Rivers or ... Mike Brown just isn't an elite coach, and his shortcomings are displaying themselves in his inability to put the pieces together. The Cavs look no better now than they did in their first game of the season.
As the Cavs move into the thick of their season, they have plenty left to prove. At this point, they aren't the team they were a season ago, which means they aren't a team good enough to reach the NBA Finals.
That has been their mission. It's the NBA Finals or bust for King James, Shaq and Mike Brown, a trio in transition; their future in Cleveland intertwined.
Their partnership might be short-lived, because if they don't reach the NBA Finals this season, none of three might be around next season to continue what has been a nice run of success but not a championship run.
But if losing to the Bobcats indicates anything (and it shouldn't), that run will end with another disappointment at this season's end. For LeBron and the Cavs have to play harder and do more than simply show up and expect a team to roll over and play a corpse.
They might have the look of a champion on paper, but who in Cleveland wants to see another paper champion? The city saw plenty of those teams during the glory years of the Indians in the '90s.