Ever had a movie, song, TV show, or even a friend ruined for you when someone pointed out a flaw that you couldn't un-notice? That happened to me with R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion." I always had a soft spot for the track, the beautiful mandolin, the hypnotic melody, the gorgeous string arrangement in the second half of the song... until...
It was high school, and I picked up this girl, Kelsey, to go out on a date, and R.E.M. started playing in my car's CD player. (Why did I think R.E.M. was the right call in that situation? I'm not sure. I was 17, and like most 17 year old boys, I was an idiot.) Anyway, the unmistakable opening to that song crackled through my speakers, and Kelsey rolled her eyes.
"Ugh," she said, semi-disgusted.
"What?" I asked. "You don't like R.E.M.?"
"They're fine," she answered. "I just don't like this song."
"Why? What's wrong with this song? This is their best song!"
"Yes! What's wrong with it?"
"Listen to him sing," she told me, smirking. "The guy sounds bored out of his mind."
Poof. Just like that, I couldn't un-hear Michael Stipe's nasally, disinterested tone as he talks about himself in the corner, in the spotlight, losing his religion.
It probably won't burst any bubbles if I tell all of you that the Cavs have often looked a little bored this season. Hell, David Blatt is talking about it. LeBron James is talking about it. Even as Cleveland rebounded from a lackluster opening night performance in Chicago by winning eight in a row, they weren't exactly firing on all cylinders. Wins versus the Grizzlies and Heat were somewhat inspired, but two of their next three victories came over the woeful Sixers, and by a combined total of 13 points. The Cavs won, but rarely commanded games from start to finish. The winning streak ended Saturday in a double overtime affair in Milwaukee, and they lost Tuesday in Motown as well, which prompted Blatt and LeBron to speak up.
Last season, comments such as those would've ignited reactionary nonsense and panic from just about every corner of Cavs fandom. This season, criticism about the team being "soft" or "entitled" is interesting, but not incendiary. It's good that the leaders of the team - LeBron and Blatt - are on the same page, and it's good that they're addressing it now, before it festers into blase passivity, like what you see in Brooklyn, or something rank, such as what happened in Houston.
It's only natural for this to happen, right? Last season the Cavs were fresh and new, and their future seemed so cloudy, the roster unsettled, the personalities unfamiliar with one another, and in between all that, they tried to build a successful basketball team together. It took awhile, and everyone freaked out and argued about how to fix it when things were going badly, but eventually they figured it out. No, they didn't win the title, but they became a flying death machine, winning 34 of 43 games to close the regular season and cruising through the Eastern Conference before being felled by injuries in the Finals.
They should make it through the East again in 2015-16, and they could win their first title. That's very much in play. The problem is, the playoffs don't start for another five months, and while everything that happens between now and then isn't a formality, it sure doesn't match the contact high of playing basketball on the game's biggest stage.
In some ways, it's almost more fun to be the fan of another team at the moment. The Wolves, for instance, win or lose, can be tantalized by the electric young talent on their roster. The New York Knicks have a shiny new toy who looks like the real deal and seems to have the perfect personality to handle their zany city. San Antonio has started integrating their prize free agent into the mix, Dallas has been better than expected, and if Golden State is going to have a title hangover, it sure as hell hasn't started yet. Shoot, even a few "bad" teams aren't as bad as expected; the Kings have bounced back from early-season awfulness to look a bit better, Orlando looks like a formidable bunch, and Portland, who many felt (myself included) would have the worst record in the league, is plucky as hell.
Some teams have something at stake as we meander through November, as the season moves slowly from its "early" stage to "the grind." The Cavs don't really feel like one of them. That isn't to say they won't provide some fun moments, but the lump-in-the-back-of-your-throat anxiety isn't here, yet. The fans feel it, the national media feels it (they're content to sort of leave the Cavs alone this season, rather than nitpick every little thing), and I'd hazard to guess the players feel it, too.
Watch a bit of the "Losing My Religion" video at the top of the page. There's Peter Buck, strumming his mandolin without expression. There's Michael Stipe, sitting and staring at the ground, and a random guy dressed as angel, and Micheal Stipe again, with his face in his hands, and someone giving him a massage,and Michael Stipe again, blankly staring into the middle distance, and a kid tied to a tree with an arrow in his chest. No one looks too excited. Everyone looks like they want to take a nap.
The good news is, the 2015-16 Cavs aren't like "Losing My Religion." Not really. It feels that way at the moment, because while losses are a little disappointing, they don't sting. Everyone knows that Kyrie and Shump are on their way back, and that Cleveland won't kick it into high gear until the stretch run.
No, the Cavaliers are more like "Stairway to Heaven," and right now, Robert Plant is singing on and on about all that glitters being gold, and songbirds that sing, and rings of smoke through the trees, but pretty soon Jimmy Page is going to melt your face with an electric guitar solo. Or they're like "2+2+5," and Thom Yorke's voice is crooning over fuzzed out Jonny Greenwood chords, but soon Phil Selway is going to dust off his drum sticks and make you want to jump around. Or they're like Weezer's "Only in Dreams," which starts out as a pretty little song about unrequited love before all the band members join in, one by one, guitars wailing in crescendo to close it out.
But for now, we'll sit and hum, and occasionally tap our feet, nodding along to the rhythm. At any rate, it's better than last season's new age/chaotic/screamo nonsense. Come playoff time, Cleveland is going to be a rock show. Until then, fans will have to settle for an indie rock anthem.
"I think I thought I saw you try..."