Bob Finnan of The News-Herald published a quote from Antawn Jamison today that read like this: "Last year is last year, and that (stuff is) not going to happen. This is a different team. This is a better team. What happened last year happened last year. The biggest thing for us is that we're 6-9, we're tied for seventh in the Eastern Conference and the most important thing is to stop the bleeding as quickly as possible."
As opposed to 6-9, last year the Cleveland Cavaliers were 7-10 before the first time they played the Miami Heat. They were probably somewhere around being tied for seventh or eighth place in the Eastern Conference at that time too. I'm not totally sure about that though because I don't really start charting possible playoff match-ups until like the 40th or 50th game of the season, but that's just me. I guess Antawn does. But without knowing specifically, I suppose it is also fair to assume that the Cavaliers did hold a similar playoff position after seventeen games last year too.
We know what happened in that Miami Heat game a season ago though. The circumstances surrounding tonight's game with the Heat don't really compare at all either, beyond the fact that it does come at about the same time on this year's schedule, and the Cavs record is sorta the same heading into it. That was a totally different deal last season however, we all know that. No need to go back into all those reasons why it was. What last year's game against the Heat did do though, was send the Cavaliers season into a downward spiral of historically pathetic proportions that they never responded from. That pummeling on December 2nd impacted each of the games that followed, and the Cavs lost the next one million times they stepped on the floor as a result. More than simply losing though, they completely gave up too. Quit trying, quit competing, and quit caring about whether or not they got humiliated on the basketball court.
That was last season though, and Antawn is right that this year's team is a better team. Even though they lost their last three games by seventy-six points while Steph Curry, Derrick Rose, and Al Horford sat in street clothes, I still believe that. Antawn Jamison needs to step up and help prove that though. He can't be complaining about an offense that has no flow and at the same time chuck up one-handed runners that make no sense with 22 seconds left on the shot clock. He needs to be that veteran leader. He needs to help this young team play with the pride the Cavs didn't have last season. Offering the tough talk heading into tonight's game is a start, there's nothing wrong with what he said, and he's right on all accounts I think. But these Cavs need to also know that if they give a collective effort that's less than what would qualify as going all out, they will still get embarrassed this season too. Regardless of how much better they might be than the worst team in NBA history. They will get especially embarrassed by LeBron James and the Miami Heat too if they don't max out tonight.
Beyond all that, what I do believe that tonight's Heat game does offer though is an opportunity to have as positive an impact on this year's Cavs team as last year's game did in the negative sense. If the Cavs actually win, it could send this year's season on an upward trend that could surprise everybody. Probably even the players on the team. But they don't even need to really win for this game to still be the start to something consistently positive. If they can simply compete for four quarters with the utmost focus, something they haven't done since Martin Luther King Day, the confidence gained through that experience of playing these guys tough tonight down in Miami could be huge. Even if D-Wade doesn't go, and even if they end up losing by seven, there is a whole lot that can be accomplished tonight. The Cavaliers can prove in one night everything that Antawn Jamison said in the open there is true. If they compete. If they try hard. If LeBron dunks on their faces five times and they get up to keep trying to defend him afterwards, as opposed to simply high-fiving him and hugging it out. Tonight's big for the development of Kyrie Irving, and tonight will speak volumes about where this team is heading in the short-term.
At that same time, what this game will not prove or indicate is anything about LeBron James as a player or a person specifically. He's arguably the best in the world still, he may not win an NBA Title, his legacy will not read the way it seemed it once would have, or should have, but he can't win that ring he desperately needs tonight no matter what he does. His moment of truth will be in June. The Cavaliers moment of truth, as far as the 2011-12 season is concerned, is right now. It's tonight down in South Beach. If you really do believe this year's team is that much better than last year's, Antawn, then go out and prove it. I think you're right, I think you can, and I'm hoping to see some progress tonight. It's time to snap out of it fellas, play like you think you can beat the Heat tonight. Let's go.