(The Sports Xchange) - It’s far too soon in a marathon regular season for LeBron James to press the panic button, but his trigger finger is getting itchy.
After watching the short-handed New Orleans Pelicans, playing without All-Star forward Anthony Davis, hand the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers their fifth loss in seven games — a 124-122 defeat despite a season-high 49 points by Kyrie Irving — James said Monday night that his team’s uninspired play is getting his attention.
James said before the game that it didn’t feel as thought the Cavs had lost four of their previous six games. Not any more.
“It feels like we’ve lost five out of seven,” he said. “We’ve got to figure it out. It’s been a crappy 2017 so far.”
The Pelicans (18-27) led 70-50 at halftime and by 17 points early in the fourth quarter, and they got just enough relief offense from forward Terrence Jones, who matched his career best with 36 points, and from point guard Jrue Holiday, who had a season-high 33 points and 10 assists.
It was Holiday’s sixth career game of at least 30 points and 10 assists, and he said he had to be aggressive in Davis’ absence, which the Pelicans didn’t expect until Davis went through pre game warm ups and couldn’t get his deep right thigh bruise to loosen up.
“I had everything (going), to be honest,” Holiday said. “Got to the lane pretty well, made some pretty good passes, knocked down some jump shots. So it felt pretty good.”
While Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue was thrilled with Irving’s performance — 15 of 28 from the field, including 8 of 14 from 3-point range — he’s concerned about the minutes his two leading scorers are logging.
Irving played 42 minutes after playing 41 minutes in a 118-115 overtime loss to San Antonio on Saturday night. James played 44 minutes after going for 45 minutes against the Spurs.
James had a triple-double with 26 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds, but he needed 21 shots. He also committed a team-high six turnovers, three in the fourth quarter.
“I’m not complaining, but right now we’re just trying to get out of a hole,” James said. “Coach’ll figure it out, and we’ve got to figure it out as far as minutes, too. We’ve just got to be better as a team.
“It’s not about how many minutes I’m playing right now or being fresh down the stretch. We’ve got to be good right now, and we’re not winning.”
The Cavaliers got 22 points and 16 rebounds from Kevin Love.
Irving took control in the third quarter, scoring 19 points as the Cavaliers outscored the Pelicans 36-24 to cut their 20-point deficit to 94-86.
But the Cavaliers couldn’t escape from allowing 70 first-half points. The Pelicans also opened the fourth quarter with three consecutive 3-pointers.
“Every single challenge we have to be ready to face,” Irving said. “Our shootaround was definitely dedicated to stopping AD, but we can’t make any excuses. We’ve got some correctable things that won’t happen going forward.”
Lue said, “We just didn’t respect them one through five. Terrence Jones got it going early with 17 first-quarter points. Jrue Holiday made shots.
“We’re going to get everyone’s best every single night. We’ve got to understand that, no matter who’s on the floor.”
Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said he was pleased with the way his team responded to a 143-114 home loss on Friday night to Brooklyn, the worst team in the NBA.
“I just thought it was a game that we competed like crazy and played hard and then got a lead, knowing at some stage they were going to make a run,” Gentry said.
“Kyrie made some tough, tough shots. I mean there was not anything that anybody could do about some of the shots that he made.
“So for us, we just tried to weather the storm and find a way to make enough plays down the stretch to hold them off and win.”