You can get a summation of the Cavaliers ugly loss to the Kings in Sacramento here, so stay with me for a second while I give a little more opinion on this team.
Even before the Cavaliers acquired Luol Deng last week, this type of loss was unacceptable for a team with the stated goal of making the playoffs. Teams aren’t supposed to get blown out by 44, even if it is on the road. It especially isn’t supposed to happen on the road to a team just slightly better record wise than you and than, on the season, gives up 104.3 points per game – good for fifth worst in the league. The Kings, although better of late, arguably had (and have) more short and long-term issues than the Cavaliers. That didn’t show one bit tonight and the Cavaliers fell by a score of 124-80 as a result.
It is not like this top of loss hasn’t happened before either. There was the 30 point loss to the Spurs in late November. There was the 17 point loss to the Celtics less than a week later on November 29th. And there was the 19 point loss to the Hawks in early December and the 115-92 loss to the Pistons at home two days before Christmas. This type of loss has been an ugly and common occurrence and, on any level, that is unacceptable.
This brings me back to the Luol Deng trade. While bringing him in doesn’t and will not solve all of the Cavaliers issues (after all, he can’t stop Jarrett Jack from taking long twos in transition and get Anthony Bennett into playing shape) but he is a veteran presence the Cavaliers need in the locker room to take that next step. Basically, Deng – the longtime glue guy on some very good Chicago Bulls teams – was supposed to come in and help the Cavaliers not lay eggs like this. After all, Deng has replaced the woeful Earl Clark and Alonzo Gee as the Cavaliers starting small forward.
It’s only been two games – I get that – but this is still something that can’t be just viewed as a growing pain. As RDE’s Mike Schreiner told me via e-mail after the game, this is the type of game that takes years off your life as a fan. This is the kind of game that makes you want to turn off the TV and watch something else because it is downright painful to watch your team play so awful. It’s the type of game that makes you wonder as a fan wonder why you even let yourself watch every game your team plays, no matter when or where they are playing.
From the organizations perspective, this about at the worst thing that could have happened, even if it is just the second game of Deng’s time as a member of the Wine & Gold. The last two games – a victory at home against the 76ers and a win on the road against the Jazz – looked as if the Cavaliers were energized by this trade and taking the step towards being a playoff team, albeit in the woeful Eastern Conference. The first win saw the Cavaliers just blowout a team they should have beaten and the second saw Cleveland overcome an ugly first half and then pull away in the second half.
And now those victories look like fluke performances rather than real improvements. They look as if the Cavaliers miraculously put together a competent game of basketball that every team is bound to have from time to time. It’s not quite rock bottom, but it’s close. These next three games – against the Lakers, the Trail Blazers and Nuggets – should tell us a lot about where this team is really at and where they are headed.
We are about to found out how this team responds to a blowout loss with Deng on the roster. Can he help them stay focused and come ready to play the next three nights out? Can he help Kyrie Irving – who was awful tonight – come out looking to redeem himself against the Lakers? Can he help Dion Waiters keep a positive outlook in a pretty ugly situation? All of these questions need – and will – be answered by the end of the next week.
Maybe this needed to happen. Maybe this was the loss Cavs fans and the organization needed as a reminder that this team still has a lot of issues and is by no means a lock to be playing playoff basketball came May. It certainty wasn’t pretty or easy to watch, but maybe it was necessary.
I guess we’ll find out Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday.
PG Kyrie Irving — 32 minutes, 3-14 shooting, seven points, a +/- of -29
Irving was downright awful tonight. It was his worst performance since he was held scoreless by the Hawks and was downright outplayed by Isaiah Thomas on both e, nds. He didn’t attack the rim with consistency and just bricked every shot he took. He had a few nice plays on defense, but overall just did nothing positive tonight. And there is no way the Cavaliers can win without Irving at least being somewhat helpful.
SG C.J. Miles — 25 minutes, 14 points, 5-8 shooting
Miles would get my MVP award if I felt it appropriate to give one out and he continues to be on a tear even when his teammates are playing poorly. He had one of the few positive plays of the night when he was fouled hard (but didn’t get a call) and then nailed a three on the next possession down. Bravo to C.J. for showing up and actually doing something.
SF Luol Deng — 24 minutes, 5-11 shooting, 12 points, five rebounds
Deng was good early on, as he and Miles scored the first 11 Cavaliers points. He also moved nicely without he ball – something I hope to see more and more of – but he also had a few ill timed turnovers when the Cavaliers were still in the game. At least he played better than Alonzo Gee would have.
PF Tristan Thompson — 2-5 shooting, six points, three rebounds
When Tristan Thompson doesn’t rebound well, he cannot be a factor for the Cavaliers – plain and simple. He also was flat out outplayed by Jason Thompson and just played a very forgettable 24 minutes. If it weren’t for Dion Waiters and Irving, Thompson might be the most inconsistent Cavalier. Some nights he looks like he could be on the cusp of becoming a Top-10 power forward. And some night he looks like this.
C Anderson Varejao – 26 minutes, 10 points, seven rebounds, six assists
Varejao was actually fairly decent tonight overall. DeMarcus Cousins flat-out destroyed him in the post for most of the game, but he did have seven boards and passed nicely to cutting teammates. One in particular – a no look pass to a cutting Deng that resulted in a layup for the swingman – was out of a set I hope to see the Cavaliers use more now that they have a small forward who knows how to move without the ball. I guess that’s a positive?
No one because the bench failed to respond when the starters needed some some energy to feed off of. But if I had to give it to anyone, it would be to Sergey Karasev because he had the lowest +/- score at -4.
Dion Waiters had an awful night (started off with a air balled three), Jarrett Jack did Jarrett Jack things and Tyler Zeller was solid, but didn’t really make a huge impact on either end. Earl Clark actually had a nice game as well, but he too could not do anything to change the course of the game. And isn’t that the purpose of bench that has two players who can come in and theoretically put up points quickly?
Brown coached a dud of game tonight. On the sidelines, he shook his head at how bad the Cavaliers defense was, but didn’t do much about it. Granted, his go-to bench guys (Waiters and Jack) weren’t much help and he didn’t really have anywhere else to go. But time and time again, Brown sticks with his regulars when it is clear some kind of change is needed for the Cavaliers to do something positive.
Would there have been any harm in playing Anthony Bennett, Karasev, Dellavedova and others for most – if not all – of garage time that started in the third quarter? I say no and I would have liked to seen him give the young guys playing time earlier. It wouldn’t have changed the outcome and I don’t know if Brown could have at all changed the outcome, but at least it would have been something different.