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With five-game losing streak, Bickerstaff says Cavaliers have ‘fat cat mentality’

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The Cleveland Cavaliers were the good news story of the first couple weeks of the NBA season (as opposed to the franchises melting down in the nation’s largest media markets). The Cavaliers gave up a lot to trade for Donovan Mitchell, but unleashed from the Utah offense he was better than advertised, the Cleveland defense was impressive, and the team raced out to an 8-1 start.

Since then, they have dropped five straight games, with the worst defense in the league over that stretch. That fifth loss was Wednesday night to a Bucks team without Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday or other key rotation players. After the game, coach J.B. Bickerstaff ripped into his team’s mentality, via Jamal Collier of ESPN.

“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.”

An experienced and smart coach like Bickerstaff knows to pick his spots to call out his team publicly. Hit with a five-game losing streak — and with a winnable game against injury-riddled Charlotte up next — was the right time to play the card.

Attitude and intensity may be part of the issue, but injuries have been as well. Mitchell missed a couple of games, Allen missed the last one, and if one thing has been evident over the past five games, this team does not yet have the depth and mentality to win when it’s not whole.

The teams at the top of the East, where the Cavaliers aspire to be, are doing that this season. The Bucks haven’t had Middelton for one game and have had other key rotation guys in and out of the lineup. The Celtics had their coach suspended just before training camp started and have been without defensive anchor Robert Williams. Hasn’t mattered. They find ways to win.

That’s the next step for the Cavaliers. It’s a mentality, but it’s also work for GM Koby Altman to do. Cleveland looks like a conte4nder when everything is lined up right, but come the playoffs things never line up perfectly — winning means overcoming adversity. That’s the next step for the Cavaliers, and they are facing that adversity now.