LOS ANGELES: In this sometimes upside-down NBA world, the Cavs’ 113-93 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday isn’t such a bad thing.
The Cavs are playing for draft lottery position at this point and desperately need the Lakers to make the playoffs in order to snatch their first-round pick in this summer’s draft.
The desperation, angst and wailing are at all-time highs around Los Angeles as the Lakers continue to stumble, bumble and fumble their way through a miserable first half of the season, prompting coach Mike D’Antoni to pronounce Sunday’s game as the new start to the Lakers’ season and calling it a must-win game – even though the Lakers still have 45 games left on the schedule.
Desperation – and the return of Dwight Howard – were enough to spark greatness, at least for one night.
Kyrie Irving had 15 points and seven assists and Alonzo Gee had 14 points, but the Cavaliers tumbled into a 37-18 hole at the end of the first quarter and never dug out.
“We just got punched in the mouth in the first quarter and that killed us the rest of the game,” Irving said. “We didn’t come together as a team when we really needed to, when they made that run. Those types of things have to change, especially for a young team like ourselves. We have to huddle together. Obviously good teams will make runs. We just need to fight back.”
The Cavs pulled within 10 at the start of the second half, but were again doomed by a miserable start to the third quarter – a recurring problem most of the season. Howard was whistled for goaltending on the Cavs’ opening possession of the second half, pulling them within 57-47 of the Lakers. They went without a field goal for nearly four minutes after that, allowing the Lakers to push the lead to 20 before coach Byron Scott called a timeout to reach for the bandages.
“You've got to give them a lot of credit. They came out focused and aggressive from the start,” Scott said. “With the young group that we have, you can't allow a team to get out to a 17- or 18-point lead in the first quarter and expect to try to come back all night long. They've got too many veterans, too many good players to do that. We didn't come out with the right frame of mind to start. We started to fight and get ourselves back into the game. But that's too deep of a hole to dig against a veteran team like that.”
C.J. Miles struggled through a miserable night, particularly at the start of the third quarter when he turned it over twice and missed all three of his shots within a 3 ½ minute span. He was removed at the timeout and took the rest of the night off. Miles has been up-and-down most of the season and was really down on Sunday, finishing 1 of 9 shooting and missing all five of his 3-point attempts.
“He just missed shots tonight,” Scott said. “He was obviously very disappointed in the way he played.”
The Cavs trailed by 19 in the first half, but after cutting the deficit to 10 on the opening possession of the third quarter, they were never really in the game again.
Howard returned for the Lakers with 22 points and 14 rebounds after missing three games with a torn labrum in his right shoulder. He was considered a game-time decision and no one knew he was starting until about 45 minutes prior to the game. Bad shoulder or not, he had little trouble throwing around the Cavs’ bigs, who spent most of the night in foul trouble. Tyler Zeller had six points, five rebounds and five fouls while struggling through a 1 for 7 shooting night. Until the late announcement, Zeller was preparing to face rookie second-round pick Robert Sacre.
“That definitely changes the mindset,” Zeller said. “You go from playing somebody who has only played about 13 games this year, then you go to an All-Star.”
Kobe Bryant had 23 points and the Lakers ended a six-game losing streak, which was the longest in the NBA.
At least on this night, the Cavs’ struggles went to a good cause. If the Cavs can help get the Lakers’ season turned around, it will ultimately benefit them come June.
“They definitely have the talent,” Irving said, when asked if the Lakers can make the playoffs. “They’re one of the most talented teams in the league. I think they can.”
The Cavs hope they can.