Cavs’ Terrible Defense Costs Them Top Spot in East

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Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James, right, goes to the basket against San Antonio Spurs guard Jonathon Simmons in Monday night’s game in San Antonio.

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Larry W. Smith/European Pressphoto Agency

It did not look like much when David Lee’s elbow gently collided with the base of LeBron James’s neck at the end of a rebound Monday night. The look on James’s face seemed to convey annoyance more than injury, and Lee, speaking after the game, claimed to be unaware that they had even made contact. But slowly after the hit, James crumpled to the floor in pain and was unable to return in a 103-74 thrashing of his Cleveland Cavaliers by the host San Antonio Spurs.

The play was emblematic of how March has gone for the Cavaliers. The problems started with a road loss to the tenacious Boston Celtics on March 1, and they have continued through Cleveland’s loss on Monday, which resulted in Boston’s leapfrogging the Cavaliers in the standings to at least temporarily hold sole possession of the top playoff seeding in the Eastern Conference.

James, who said his neck would be fine for Cleveland’s game against Chicago on Thursday, claimed that seeding was not his chief concern as he works to fix what is broken for the N.B.A.’s defending champions.

“How much does it matter to me?” James asked reporters when the subject of playoff seeding came up. “It matters more that we’re playing better basketball than where we’re at. If that results in us getting the No. 1 seed, getting the No. 2 seed, 3 or whatever.”

He added, “I want us to be playing better basketball.”

James is right to be concerned. March has thus far delivered a 6-9 record that may qualify as overachievement considering the team’s defense has disintegrated to the point that it has allowed an N.B.A.-worst 114.5 points per 100 team possessions.

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