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Demolition by Warriors leaves Cavs piecing it back together

OAKLAND, Calif. — If the NBA has taught us anything in the past year, it is that nothing is a sure bet in the association.

It was 364 days ago that the Golden State Warriors took it to the Cleveland Cavaliers, blowing them out by 34 points on Jan. 18, 2016, on their home court to drop the Cavs' record to 28-11 and push their mark to 38-4.

On Monday, Jan. 16, 2017, the Dubs blasted the Cavs by 35 at Oracle Arena, with the 126-91 win putting Cleveland at 29-11 and boosting the Warriors' record to 35-6.

Of course, between those two games, the Cavs fired their coach, David Blatt, and hired Tyronn Lue. They traded for Channing Frye and started the playoffs 10-0, yet fell down 3-1 in the NBA Finals against a Warriors team led by Stephen Curry, who was anointed the first unanimous MVP in league history yet was hampered by a leg injury. From there, the Cavs saw Draymond Green get suspended, Andrew Bogut be sidelined with a knee injury and Andre Iguodala's back seize up. Then the Cavaliers completed the most dramatic comeback in NBA championship history to win it all in Game 7.

Yes, that 34-point loss was an agent of change that set many of those events in motion, but it hardly controlled the hands of fate when it came to Cleveland's winning Games 5, 6 and 7.

Stephen Curry and the Warriors got to flex against the Cavaliers for the first time since Game 4 of the 2016 NBA Finals. Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

"What do you want us to do?" Lue said after Monday's game. "I mean, they beat us. They won one game. They won. Yeah, we're going to shake it off. We got to. We've got [42] more games left."

There's no use parsing this one out. It was an abjectly brutal game for the Cavs. Cleveland gave up a season-high 126 points (including a wild 78 in the first half) as LeBron James suffered what tied for the worst regular-season loss of his 14-season career, in terms of scoring margin. The Cavs were dominated in just about every facet, as Golden State outshot them 50.5 percent to 35.2 percent from the field and 44.1 percent to 26.5 percent from 3, out-rebounded them 58-35 and out-assisted them 37-11.

"They put it on us," James said. "They put it on us real good."

The regular-season loss to Golden State a year ago shook the Cavs franchise to its core and made Cleveland's decision-makers commit to some real work to get on Golden State's level and avenge their 2015 Finals loss.

Monday's result doesn't have the same gravity associated with it.

Was it lockdown defense, or was it the Warriors' playing at home on three days' rest while the Cavs were playing the sixth game of a 12-day road trip?

Do the Cavs' four wins in a row against Golden State — three to end the Finals, plus Christmas Day — not matter now? Do we look at the first three in that streak as irrelevant because Kevin Durant — a top-three player in the world, as Lue described him pregame — was not on the Warriors then? Do we eliminate the Christmas win that involved a 14-point fourth-quarter comeback and a controversial non-call at the end?

Do we ignore the fact that J.R. Smith wasn't there, as he continues to recover from thumb surgery? Do we overlook that two of the Cavs' nine-man rotation are working into new roles, with Iman Shumpert starting and Kyle Korver still figuring out how things work in Cleveland's schemes? What about the fact that Kevin Love played only 16 ineffective minutes as he dealt with a back problem?

MONDAY SPOTLIGHT

After stumbling against the Cavs lately, the Warriors unleashed a beatdown.

Warriors stomp down champs
Draymond inflicts flagrant foul on LBJ
Cavs sort out demolition act
Love's back proves balky
Stats: First half perfect for GSW
Isaiah steps forth in fourth
Russ, OKC stumble against Clips

CLEVELAND CAVALIERS

Check out the team site for more game coverage

GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS

Check out the team site for more game coverage

"We're still a work in progress," James said. "I've been telling you that. It's nothing new. It's nothing new under the sun. We're a work in progress. We still got to continue to get better. We've had some injuries this year that's kind of hampered us, and we've had some guys sit out that's hampered us a little bit. You know, we got a lot of time still, which is a positive. But it's no secret to how we've been playing lately. We made a trade. We lose our starting 2-guard. Kyrie went out for a few games. Tonight, Kev wasn’t able to finish the game. So we know what we're capable of when we’re fully healthy."

If there's one alarm to sound after Monday's drubbing, it was James' repeating his claim from before Christmas that Golden State has a treasure trove of playmakers, listing off not just Curry, Green, Durant and Klay Thompson but also Iguodala, Shaun Livingston and Zaza Pachulia as consistent creators. That brought further urgency to Cavs general manager David Griffin's claim from earlier in the week that Cleveland was looking to add "playmaking" — and not necessarily exclusively at the point guard position.

James wants more help, which is also nothing new. Any superstar who has been in the league for a decade and a half and seen what he has seen, including the injuries that marred the Cavs' run in '15 and the injuries that hampered the Warriors run in '16, would be silly to not arm up as much as possible before the playoffs.

Simply put, Monday's game proves little other than that a lot can happen in six weeks, let alone six months. Both the Cavs and the Warriors have rendered regular-season results pretty irrelevant, based on how the past year has played out. Things could look a lot different again come June.

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