LOS ANGELES: Eleven final thoughts from a 120-118 win over the Lakers on Tuesday...
1. These are going to be brief because I have a flight in four hours and it has already been a ridiculously long day (and trip),
2. After what happened Sunday in Sacramento, then after watching this team give up 40 points in the second quarter against the Lakers, the start to the third quarter felt awfully important to me -- and by extension the rest of the game.
3. A couple of the players, and Mike Brown, seemed to downplay the importance of this night. It was beginning to feel to me like one of those defining moments of the season. That's not to sound overly dramatic, but if the Cavs played the second half like they played the second quarter, they may have lost this game by 44, too.
4. The Cavs' defense was again terrible. They were crushed in transition in the first half and left a lot of shooters open around the perimeter in the second half. This was another one of those games where the Cavs just outscored the opponent, which isn't necessarily a good thing considering how much time Brown has devoted to telling this group they can't win that way on the road. They just did. Now the caveat is this is a terrible, injury-riddled Lakers team. The Cavs won't be able to play this way defensively Wednesday at Portland and expect to win.
5. "We've been addressing our defense in the locker room," Luol Deng said. "I think it will take time, but I think it will come together."
6. One of the big keys to this game was the first six minutes of the third quarter. Deng had three 3-pointers within the first 90 seconds, Anderson Varejao had 8 rebounds in the quarter (including 4 offensive) and the Cavs quickly seized momentum again after that lousy second quarter.
7. Deng, incidentally, was shooting 28 percent on 3-pointers before making all five of his attempts on Tuesday. "I just read what they did. They went under screens, I took my shots and they went in," Deng said. "Whether I'm shooting 28 or 60 percent, I'm still going to get in the gym and take the same rhythm shots. I've been in this league 10 years. It comes and goes, but the work you put in is always the same."
8. At one point in the third quarter Tuesday, Deng huddled the players together near the free-throw line. It was subtle, but it was a veteran move that doesnt usually happen on the court with this team. I've written before I think Deng needs to be more vocal here than he was in Chicago. So far, that seems to be happening. "Guys have allowed me to step in and speak up, but I'm trying to come in and do whatever it takes to win games," he said. "At times it's gathering everyone together and letting them know how important a possession is."
9. In chatting with people around the team prior to the trip, I felt this team absolutely had to come home with a minimum of two wins from this trip and ideally three. Considering they were playing the three worst teams in the West to start the trip, that certainly seemed feasible. They went 2-1 against those bad teams and now face two pretty good ones in the Blazers and Nuggets. They've already beaten the Nuggets at home and lost to the Blazers at the buzzer, so they can compete with both of these teams.
10. I thought Deng had an astute observation after Tuesday morning's shootaround when he said it's easier for guys to start listening to the message when they see success. Guys can start buying in more to what Mike Brown is saying when they're 7-3 over a 10-game stretch rather than 3-7. The Cavs have now won three of their last four, so they're on the right track. They're also within 1 1/2 games of the final playoff spot.
11. Flight in five hours. I'll talk to you from Portland on Wednesday night.