Bickerstaff traces Cavs’ skid to ‘fat cat mentality’

MILWAUKEE — The Cleveland Cavaliers dropped their fifth straight game on Wednesday night, a 113-98 road loss to a short-handed Milwaukee Bucks squad missing at least five rotation players.

The losing skid follows an eight-game winning streak for the Cavs, who started the season 8-1 and looked like contenders in the Eastern Conference. However, following Wednesday’s game, Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff wondered whether his team developed a “fat-cat mentality” after such a fast start and believed winning would come easy for them.

“We got kind of a fat cat mentality. We went out and won eight games in a row, everybody was giving us love and praising us, and we got really comfortable,” Bickerstaff said. “We are the team that won those eight games; we are a really good basketball team. This is about maturation and growth from a team as a whole.”

Bickerstaff said he first started to notice a change in his team’s effort and mentality during their recent West Coast road trip, which included fourth-quarter meltdowns against the LA Clippers and Golden State Warriors and a loss to the Sacramento Kings. Despite his criticism, Bickerstaff reiterated Wednesday that he still believed in the Cavs roster, even as he was searching for ways to get them back to playing winning basketball.

“These five games don’t emulate who we are, who we’ve been,” said Cavs star Donovan Mitchell, who finished with 23 points on Wednesday, 16 of which came in the first quarter. “Like I said before when we were winning: It’s early. There’s gonna be trials and tribulations, gonna be positives and negatives, and right now we’re in a negative spot. It’s nothing to overreact to. The biggest thing is we gotta understand that every night we’re gonna have to bring it.”

Mitchell added: “We won eight in a row. That’s great. We lost five in a row. OK, cool, let’s get back to the drawing board and get to it. We’ve done it, we’ve shown we can do it. Looks great, looks phenomenal. We just have to go out there and do it. It’s a long season. This is nothing to sit here, and the sky is falling and whatever … It’s November, we’ve played a bunch of good teams.”

The Cavs have also played the last two games without center Jarrett Allen, who sat out with a sore left ankle. Cleveland has struggled defensively throughout this five-game losing streak but its defensive woes have only been magnified without the All-Star big man in the middle.

The Cavs are surrendering 122 points per 100 possessions during their five-game skid, per NBA.com, by far the worst defensive rating in the league during that span.

“Basically our defense and our defensive effort, that’s what we’ve been focusing on,” Cavs big man Evan Mobley said. “Defensively we’re lacking sometimes in some areas. Just doing it. Simple as that. We know what we have to do, we talked about it. We just have to go out there and do it.”

On Wednesday, the Cavs held star Giannis Antetokounmpo to a relatively quiet night offensively – 16 points on 6-of-18 shooting with 12 rebounds and eight assists — but they allowed the Bucks to beat them from the outside.

Milwaukee converted 16 of its 39 (41%) 3-pointers, including seven 3s from Brook Lopez, who finished with 29 points, his highest-scoring game since the Orlando bubble in 2020. The Bucks scored 45 bench points, despite missing Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday, Grayson Allen, Pat Connaughton and Wesley Matthews.

“Scoring is gonna be whatever, that’s not really the concern, it’s really just our defense,” Mitchell said. “Yeah, we missed JA, but the one thing that championship teams — which we aspire to be — when guys are out everybody continues to step up.

“You saw that tonight. They had four, five guys out and guys continued to step up. We’ve got a ways to go and it’s nothing to overreact to. We’ll be good, but you want to learn from wins, obviously, not losses.”

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