CLEVELAND — The worst four-game stretch of LeBron James’ career and a shocking start for the Cavaliers got a little worse Thursday.
Forward Tristan Thompson could be out a month with a strained left calf.
One of Cleveland’s most dependable players over the past few years, Thompson was injured in the second quarter Wednesday night in a loss to the Indiana Pacers. Thompson, who has been moved out and in of the starting lineup by coach Tyronn Lue, left Quicken Loans Arena using crutches. The team said an MRI confirmed the strain and that he’ll need as much as four weeks to recover before he plays again.
Thompson’s injury is the latest setback for the Cavs, who have dropped four straight and are 3-5, not where a team expected to make it to its fourth NBA Finals figured to be at this point.
But injuries, new players, an older roster and defensive lapses have contributed to make the three-time defending Eastern Conference champions one of the early season’s surprises — for the wrong reasons.
Cleveland has lost the past four games by a combined 64 points, the most lopsided four-game span for James since he lost four in a row during his rookie season. But that’s when he was virtually alone on a Cleveland team, not one with All-Stars like Kevin Love, Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose.
As the Cavs regrouped at practice before leaving to play the Washington Wizards on Friday, there were signs of concern or panic about the slow start from such an experienced team. Losses are going to happen.
“No one in here is a rookie,” Wade said. “Everyone in here has been through it. Lots of guys have been through the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows. It’s frustrating when you’re going through it. We have to continue to understand that we’re going to get out of this together and this is going to be a distant memory at one point, but right now we’re in it. We have to figure it out and I think we will.”
Wade said communication, or a lack of it, has been at the root of Cleveland’s problems. With the league’s oldest roster, it’s not a surprise that the Cavs are struggling defensively against younger, and in some cases, more athletic teams.
But what it alarming is that the Cavs have been slow to correct their mistakes and teams are shooting so well against them. Cleveland’s opponents are making a league-high 42 percent of their 3-point attempts.
Wade joked that it feels like teams are “shooting like 90 percent on open shots and 70 percent on contested shots.”
“We have a long way to go defensively,” he said. “If we was at our best defensively and they was tagging us like this, it’d be red alert. Right now, as we said, we’ve got to continue to get our coverages down, our communication down.”
Lue has been scrambling to come up with combinations that work, and his job has been made more difficult by injuries to Rose, Iman Shumpert and with James working himself into shape after missing most of the preseason with a sprained ankle.
Also, the Cavs are still without All-Star guard Isaiah Thomas, who is still recovering from a hip injury.
Wade, who signed a one-year deal for a chance to play alongside his close friend James again, likened the Cavs’ current state to something he experienced a few years ago in Miami.
After winning consecutive titles, the Heat started 4-3 before winning 10 straight games. They finished 54-28, won the conference title and made the Finals for the fourth straight year.
Wade is still amazed it happened.
“I don’t know how we made it,” he said. “As a team, we were kind of like this. It was worse because it wasn’t new guys. It was guys who had been around each other four years in a row. Your jokes weren’t funny anymore to other guys, when you walked in it wasn’t a big smile any more. Guys were just over you. It’s like being in a bad marriage. But we somehow made it to the Finals.
“Indiana should have beat us that year. We had a mental edge over those guys and we were able to win. But we shouldn’t have been there. So it’s tough, definitely. That’s why it hasn’t been done a lot. For the guys here, you have to pull from something else to motivate you, to get you to feel that hunger again like you had that first year. That’s sports, it’s tough.”