ORLANDO — Following yet another disheartening loss by the Cleveland Cavaliers, 116-98 to an Orlando Magic team tied for the worst record in the Eastern Conference, LeBron James said he will not waive his no-trade clause ahead of Thursday’s 3 p.m. ET trade deadline.
“I’m here for the long haul,” James said. “I’m here for this season right now, [to] try to figure out ways we can still compete. I couldn’t give up on my teammates like that. I couldn’t do that. I just couldn’t do it. We put too much into the game every single day. We go out and prepare. Win, lose or draw, at the end of the day, we’re all brothers, and we understand that. I owe it to my teammates to finish this season out no matter how it ends up. I would never waive my no-trade clause.”
Whether James’ declaration proves to be akin to a captain going down with his ship or a gambler staying at a cold table until his luck changes remains to be seen.
Cleveland scored 43 points in the first quarter Tuesday and led by as many as 21 points before completely falling apart in the second half, being outscored 41-22 in the third and 24-9 in the fourth.
According to Elias Sports Bureau research, it was just the third time in the past 10 seasons that a team had a 40-point quarter and a single-digit quarter in the same game. The 18-point loss was the largest in the shot clock era (since 1954-55) by a team that led by 15 points at the break against a team that was at least 20 games below .500.
“That was a new low tonight,” one Cavs player told ESPN.
James finished with team highs in points (25) and rebounds (10), and he added five assists with six turnovers. But he had zero rebounds and zero assists in 14 minutes played in the second half. The last time James came up with zero boards or assists in the second half of a game was March 19, 2016, against the Miami Heat, when he played eight minutes.
“I mean, it’s just a culmination of our season pretty much,” James said. “We’ve had big leads this year. We’ve lost them for whatever reason. They came out with a lot of sense of urgency. They drove our closeouts, hit some big-time shots in the third quarter, and [Jonathan] Simmons was really good in the third, obviously. Just couldn’t stop it once the snowball turned into an avalanche in the third. A 41-point quarter is hard to come back from.”
James was not the only one to see his production wane as the game wore on. The trio of Isaiah Thomas, Derrick Rose and JR Smith combined to go 0-for-17 (0-for-7 from 3-point territory) after the first quarter.
“Right now, when we hit adversity, we go our separate ways,” Thomas said. “And that’s just how I feel, and it looks like that as well. Guys start to go one-on-one on offense, and the defense is every man for himself. The first half we played good, everybody was happy. It was energized, helping each other on the defensive end. Sharing the ball. The ball was moving side to side on offense. And then we revert back to what makes us lose games.”
Thomas finished with 11 points on 3-for-13 shooting and went scoreless in the second half, something that never happened to him in the 204 career games he played with the Boston Celtics (regular season and playoffs), according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
Thomas was asked if anything can be done by the Cavs to address the slippage when the players are getting away from playing the right way.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I mean, when I address something, it’s like I’m blaming somebody. So I just try to lead by example and do my job. Which, obviously, I got to play better. But something needs to be addressed. I mean, we continue to play like this, we’re going to continue to lose.”
Then Thomas seemingly blamed Cavs coach Tyronn Lue and his staff for not keeping up with the in-game maneuvers of opposing coaches. Lue left Tuesday’s game early with an illness.
“We got to do better,” Thomas said. “We got adjust throughout the game. They made adjustments, and it worked, and we just kept getting hit with the same thing, and we made no adjustments. And that’s been one of our biggest problems all year, is adjusting. Teams are not just going to allow us to continue to score and continue to do things at a high level. They’re going to make adjustments, and we have to do the same thing too, and we’re not that good at that right now.”
A scout present for the Cavs-Magic game told ESPN that Cleveland’s roster lacks rim protection and athleticism and questioned if James had lost a step in being able to blow by his defender.
“Just got to keep pushing,” James said of the Cavs, who have lost 13 of 19 games since Christmas Day. “Just stay positive. For me, I am staying positive and just trying to figure out ways we can be better. What units work well for us on the floor, how we can be more productive, how someone can pick someone up when they’re struggling. It’s been tough because we’ve had a few guys who’ve been struggling of late. You want to try to pick them up and not lose your own individual ability to help the team. It’s no time to throw shade about our season. We’ve got to continue to be positive and continue to push forward. We’ve got quite a few games left. If we’re still serious about this season, we have to play some good ball at some point.”
Despite being 30-22, the Cavs have been outscored 5,703-5,666 through 52 games, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information.
“Right now, we don’t have that joy that we need,” Dwyane Wade said. “It’s easy for our soul to get snatched from us when teams start making shots. It’s basketball, and we’ve got to figure that out. It’s embarrassing, it’s frustrating, it’s all those things. This is one of the first times I’ve experienced something like this in my 15 years, and I’ve [been on a team that] won 15 games before. But with a team this talented, with a team of veterans like this … the way you’re losing games is kind of mind-boggling.”