I went into Sunday’s game between the Cleveland Cavaliers (9-30) and the Los Angeles Lakers (22-15) with the personal belief that the lesser STAPLES Center team – at least in the 2012-13 campaign – is not functioning in the manner of a caliber team. 22 total turnovers and a semi-breakdown in the second quarter were low points for a team that had lost it’s last six games, but against the Cavs it looked as if they had won their last eight contests. The Lakers shot 58.0 percent from the field and 52.0 percent from three, while Cleveland made a pedestrian 41.1 percent of their field goal attempts and a rancid 4-of-21 shots from beyond the arc.
The game could be summed up in one image; a desultory Kyrie Irving sitting on the bench in the fourth quarter with a white towel draping over his head. Even though the Cleveland star paced the team by making his first five attempts, he finished with 15 points and seven assists and shot 2-of-10 after a hot first quarter start.
Despite outscoring Los Angeles in the paint and coming within two rebounds of their opponent’s total – two areas that should have been keys to victory – the Cavs mailed it in from the start on defense. Every player on the bench saw time, which shows you that it was a game long decided before the opening tipoff. Being down 17 and giving up nearly 40 points when the first quarter buzzer sounded spelled loss, as Cleveland dropped their second straight game of a five-game West Coast trip by a score of 113-93.
Dwight Howard was a last second addition to the starting roster, and he made that known early on. His 22 points and 14 rebounds, which marked his 438th double-double, on 9-of-11 shooting from the field helped to spark the Lakers to their first victory of 2013. After missing his first shot attempt on the night, Dwight went on to make his next four and all of his points came from the low post or at the charity stripe. Howard’s return to the hardwood, paired with Earl Clark’s 13 points, nine rebounds and three blocks, made it a night to forget for Tristan Thompson and Tyler Zeller (once again).
The two Cavalier bigs needed to play impactful minutes if the Cavaliers wanted a chance to sweep the slumping Lakers on the season. It looked like Thompson had fixed his initial issues with defending Dwight in the paint in the second quarter, but the young power forward quickly tired. Early foul trouble from Zeller and the former Texas Longhorn only gave the two a combined 16 points (6-of-17 from the field) and 13 rebounds. Those are numbers that Thompson should be putting up by his lonesome, but he was limited to just 19 minutes of playing time.
For Thompson the effort was there, but he just doesn’t have the dynamism to go up against a player who plays at an aggressive level such as Howard did tonight. While the defense was awful (Lakers shot 65 percent from the field in the opening frame), the offense was horrid. They were counterproductive to each other, and if this team ever wants to be great with some of the high-potential pieces that they have, they need to learn the mantra that is written on their jersey: All for One. One for All. When Kyrie ended the first half 5-of-6 from the field, Dion Waiters came off the bench and missed 6-of-8 attempts. While Dion caught fire and made 50 percent of his shots in the next two quarters, Irving shot 22.2 percent from the field in the same time frame.
A player that I wasn’t very happy with after Cleveland’s loss to the Denver Nuggets on Friday was Alonzo Gee. After his above average performance against the Lakers on offense and effort-filled defense on Kobe Bryant, I was pleased with how he responded to a career-low night. He tried his best to get to the line and shot 5-of-6 from inside the three-point arc. Kobe only played 28 minutes and shot 9-of-14 from the field, but his determination to limit the future Hall of Famer was applaudable. Things could have been much worse – and at times Irving was covering the star shooting guard – but Gee proved why he is one of the better defenders on the roster. That says a lot, however.
X-factors Thompson and Zeller didn’t show up when they were called upon, and the youth on the roster was exposed at will for the short time they were on the court.
Cleveland will have to gear up for their next match right away, as they play the Sacramento Kings at 10 p.m. on Monday. After losing at home against the Kings earlier in 2013, they have a chance to go up against a similar-aged frontcourt and sort of redeem themselves.