Jan 14, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers small forward Luol Deng (9) steals the ball from Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Wesley Johnson (11) and heads down court in the first half of the game at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Cleveland Cavaliers struggle to win against Los Angeles Lakers

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A lot of Cleveland Cavaliers (14-24, 4-16 away) fans like to find moral victories whenever their beloved Wine & Gold fall to an opponent, which has happened a lot this season. But this time, when the Cavs took care of the Los Angeles Lakers (14-24, 8-11 home) on the road for their fourth away victory of the season, there wasn’t much to take away from Cleveland’s West Coast victory. Let’s face it; the Lakers were a team that the Cavs should have easily taken care of, especially with newly acquired small forward Luol Deng. Losing 11 of their past 12 contests now, the Lakers are a team without much of an identity because of injuries. The Cavs, however—who are starting to find an identity with the addition of Deng–weren’t able to fully capitalize on a self-imploding team on the road.

Despite a disappointing first half from the Wine & Gold, which included a 40-point second quarter from a usually inefficient Lakers offense that shot 13 of 17 from the field in that time, the Cavs were able to fight back in the second half for a 120-118 victory. Deng connected on all five of his three-point attempts and tallied 27 points, while Anderson Varejao grabbed 18 boards and recorded 18 points in the win.

The Wine & Gold were on top of the Lakers early in the first frame, but it wasn’t an impressive showing by any means. Deng and Varejao were doing most of the work on both ends to hold the team’s head above water, accounting for Cleveland’s first 10 points on the night.

But it was sloppy play and lack of hustle on defense that allowed the Lakers to stay within striking distance for a huge second quarter. The aforementioned 40-point debacle on defense was a team worst for the Cavs on the 2013-14 season, and it was highlighted by many Los Angeles fast breaks. Overall, the Lakers ended up outscoring the Cavs in the fast break 17-5, but took a 15-4 advantage heading into the half. This was because of a porous defensive effort, which seems to be the case for this Cleveland squad as of late, and an inability to push the ball around and up court; much like they have done better at during their current 3-1 run over the past four games.

An ineffective Kyrie Irving—thanks to early foul trouble—led to head coach Mike Brown pulling the starting point guard with just over a minute left in the first half. At this point, the Cavs were now trailing the Lakers 62-52. The team was able to cut the Laker lead down to six before the half, and an energized Anderson Varejao was then able to lead the charge on both ends to start the second half to set Cleveland up for a road victory.

Eight rebounds in the third quarter from Varejao and 10 team offensive boards helped Cleveland combat the surprisingly alive Lakers offense—which included a 6 of 10 effort from beyond the arc by shooting guard Jodie Meeks and 13 made threes as a team—and take the lead heading into the final 12 minutes of play.

The Cavaliers, despite regaining the lead after a back-and-forth start to the final frame with a little less than eight minutes to go in the game, never truly ran away with the game, as they should have by this point in the contest. As mentioned earlier, this Lakers team is one in the midst of an extreme struggle and should have been put away by the “new-look” Cavs easily.

Leading 117-111 with just under 50 seconds left in the game, Kyrie and Tristan Thompson went a combined 3 of 6 from the charity stripe to give the Lakers life. A bad foul by Deng on a Nick Young three brought the Lakers within two with 25 seconds remaining. Even with shoddy free throw shooing, Cleveland was able to keep the Lakers in check on the defensive end, resulting in the team’s second road victory on their current five-game trip out West.

The Cavaliers will have no time to rest, as they will be traveling to Portland for a 10 p.m. matchup with the Trail Blazers.

ROSTER ANALYSIS

STARTERS

PG Kyrie Irving – 13 points, 30 minutes and five personal fouls, while shooting 5 of 12 () from the field

Luckily for Kyrie, Deng was feeling it from beyond the arc on the road. The Lakers have a pretty weak guard rotation, so it still was discouraging to see the very crafty Irving struggle. Blame it on the foul trouble he got in by the time the third quarter got underway all you want, because these are matchups that Irving most definitely needs to take advantage of. Quite honestly, he hasn’t been able to cash in on many mediocre matchups this season; only the big-time ones.

SG C.J. Miles – Five points and 15 minutes, while shooting 2 of 6 from the field

An off night from Mr. Miles, but these are bound to come, especially given how hot he has been over the past week-plus. Not much of a sample size to judge C.J. from in this game, but maybe it was due to his lackluster effort on defense—which hasn’t occurred in his play in 2014 yet—that led to Brown pulling him for more Dion Waiters much earlier than normal.

SF Luol Deng – 27 points, five rebounds and four assists, while shooting 9 of 15 () from the field, 5 of 5 from three and 4 of 4 from the free throw line

Deng’s best game as a Cavalier (but his third overall, keep in mind) was probably the reason the Cavs were able to escape Los Angeles with a victory. Don’t expect this pin-point precision from three every night, but it’s nice to know that we now have a viable wing threat on both offense and defense.

PF Tristan Thompson – 15 points and 13 rebounds, while shooting 6 of 15 () from the field and 3 of 6 from the free throw line

TT notches another double-double for the Cavs, and I think this goes hand in hand with Varejao being inserted back into the starting lineup. Since Bynum was yanked by the Cavs in favor of Andy, Thompson has recorded six double-doubles in nine games out of his 17 overall on the season. This pairing has been very good when on the court together, and I’m glad to see it coming to fruition in the past week.

C Anderson Varejao – 18 points, 18 rebounds and six assists, while shooting 7 of 11 () from the field and 4 of 4 from the free throw line

I know I said earlier that Deng was the reason the Cavs came away with a W, but that wasn’t a knock on Andy’s effort in this contest at all. He was amazing, especially in the second half and to start the game. Having a healthy Andy in the starting lineup will be a huge key to Cleveland’s success heading down the stretch.

BENCH STAR

SG Matthew Dellavedova – 11 points, while shooting 4 of 6 from the field and 3 of 5 from three

Not much to pick out here from the bench brigade, because Dion Waiters’ shot selection was pretty pitiful to watch. But when Delly has his stroke going from three, he’ll always land in this section most of the time if he’s coming off the bench.

COACH’S CORNER

The Cavaliers have been horrendous on D as of late, and with set offensive plays and in-transition points missing against the Lakers for the most part, Brown was extremely disappointing in his return to Los Angeles. There were a lot of things I noticed from this team coming out of timeouts that made me think, “Hey, Coach Brown should have definitely made it a point to make sure that didn’t happen.” An example of this is when Deng passed off the ball to Tristan Thompson, who had just missed the front end of free throw attempts on the previous possession, near the end of the game with Cleveland only up by three points. The Lakers wanted Thompson to get the ball in this situation, which is why they weren’t fouling guys like Deng and Irving, who had received previous touches on this particular possession. All in all, yes, Deng passed the ball off to Thompson, but it should’ve never came to this. Brown needs to say something in the huddle to make sure that the team isn’t passing off the ball to one of their worst free throw shooters on the court in this situation. Luckily for Thompson, he converted on at least one of his free throw attempts, giving his team a four-point cushion. But I’m slowly starting to lose my patience with Brown. These gaffes cannot happen, especially against teams like the Lakers.

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Tags: Anderson Varejao Cleveland Cavaliers Kyrie Irving Luol Deng

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