ORLANDO, Fla. -- Cleveland Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith found himself in the bizarre position this weekend of rooting for the team that beat him and his teammates in the 2015 NBA Finals.
Strange as it might sound, Smith had his reasons for wanting the Golden State Warriors to continue their historic unbeaten start to the season when they played the Boston Celtics on Friday, winning in double overtime, and followed that up with a road loss in Milwaukee on Saturday to fall to 24-1.
“I was upset. I’m not going to lie,” Smith said of the Warriors’ streak ending. “When it was a tough game against Boston, I was home watching the game and I was like, ‘Man, y’all got to pull this out. Y’all got to pull this out.’ I wanted them to go undefeated until they played us.”
Smith, who was watching the Warriors at home instead of playing with the Cavs in Orlando because a 24-hour virus caused him to stay behind, rejoined the team Sunday. Smith said last month he wanted another crack at the Warriors in the Finals, but his motivation in rooting for them this weekend had nothing to do with actually wishing good tidings upon the Warriors and everything to do with sweetening the pot for the Cavs’ Christmas Day showdown with them in Oakland, California. Not only does Smith want to avenge Cleveland’s Finals loss to Golden State with a holiday win, but he wanted the win to simultaneously snap what would have been a 28-0 record for the Warriors had they kept winning.
When informed of Smith’s desire, LeBron James made it clear he was not harboring the same thoughts.
“I’m too much of a guy that sticks in the present. I would be cheating the situation, I would be cheating the progress by worrying about a Christmas Day game when we’re not there yet,” James said.
James offered up the requisite praise for Golden State setting a new standard for the best start in league history, displacing the previous record of 16-0, saying, “They played and they’re going to continue to play at a high level. It’s just one loss. I mean, these guys won 24 straight to start the season. So they’ve been playing at a high level. Those guys have no championship hangover and that’s the result of it.”
What James didn’t do was engage in much deeper discussion about the Warriors. When asked if he had any thoughts about the league recognizing the Warriors’ streak as 28 games, tacking on four wins from the end of the 2014-15 season to their total, James simply shook his head to indicate he didn’t. The Warriors’ streak being framed as 28 games instead of 24 has some significance to James’ legacy, as his Miami Heat went on a 27-game tear in the 2012-13 season, which was the second-longest win streak in league history behind the 1971-72 Lakers’ 33-game mark.
The NBA has decided to split the conversation into two distinct categories: longest winning streak overall and longest in-season winning streak. So the Warriors’ streak displaced Miami’s mark as the second-longest winning streak overall, but it remains third behind the Heat’s run when you compare in-season winning streaks.
Cavs coach David Blatt, who guided Cleveland on a 12-game winning streak last season, spoke about the challenge of managing a run like that compared to normal regular-season preparation when a streak isn’t at stake.
“I think what you try to do is you just try to continue to play good basketball and let the chips fall as they may,” Blatt said. “It’s not realistic to go 82-0. It’s not easy to win 12 or 13 [in a row]. And to win 24 is beyond the norm, without question.
“But you’re just trying to coach and you’re trying to play in a consistent fashion and not be concerned about the streak. Just be concerned about playing right and playing well. And obviously Golden State did that. They didn’t seem to be too carried away with whatever the streak was.
“But, OK, that’s in the past now. Still obviously a very, very good team. But give credit to Milwaukee. … Just shows you how tough this league is.”
Smith will just have to settle for the chance to knock off a team that could very well be 27-1 come Christmas.
“It had to come to an end sooner or later,” Smith said. “They had a hell of a run.”