LOS ANGELES: When the Cavs limped into the locker room trailing by 18 Friday night, Antawn Jamison’s mind quickly flashed back to last season’s debacle in Staples Center, when the Cavs suffered their worst loss in franchise history.
The ingredients were there for a sequel. The Cavs looked lethargic, weren’t taking care of the ball and were allowing Kobe Bryant to have the run of the place. Just as he did last year in the same locker room, coach Byron Scott again challenged his players’ pride and manhood to see how they’d respond.
On the final leg of a long, winding road trip through the West, the Cavs had plenty of reasons to quit early and head for the plane. Instead they fought throughout the second half and cut the deficit to 3 before falling 97-92 to former coach Mike Brown and the Lakers.
“Got a lot of fight,” Scott said. “They don’t give up.”
The same couldn’t always be said last year.
To be clear, Scott wasn’t thrilled with the Cavs’ 2-4 trip through Toronto, Minnesota, Portland, Utah, Phoenix and Los Angeles. He said the trip went “OK,” but that his team could’ve played better.
“We knew these six games were going to be tough anyway,” Scott said. “We competed extremely well in all six games, giving ourselves some opportunities. My standards are kind of high. I thought we played OK.”
Bryant finished with 42 points, his third consecutive game scoring at least 40, and the Lakers needed most of them to fend off the pesky Cavs. They trailed by 19 in the third quarter, cut it to 12 entering the fourth and had it down to 3 with seven minutes to play when a potential game-tying 3-pointer from Daniel Gibson rimmed out.
The Cavs failed to get back defensively and Matt Barnes was left alone at the other end of the floor for an easy dunk and a five-point swing in the game.
“Coming back here after what happened last year, this is a different team,” Jamison said. “The one thing about this team, the character we have is we never give up. When we were in this locker room, we thought if we played better, we’d be in position to win. We almost did that.”
Kyrie Irving had 21 points and four assists, looking vastly improved over his first attempt at back-to-back games. Irving was miserable playing in the second game of a back-to-back earlier this season, making 3 of 13 shots against the Raptors and looking gassed shortly after the game began.
Irving said he changed up his diet Friday, eating spaghetti and meatballs for a pregame meal. Last week at Toronto, he only nibbled on pretzels before the game.
“I wanted to eat light before the game,” he said, referring to last week. “I don’t know what I was thinking, but it didn’t work for me.”
Tristan Thompson also fared much better, scoring nine points and grabbing eight rebounds in 19 minutes. Anderson Varejao had 11 points and 14 rebounds, Ramon Sessions had 12 points and Omri Casspi had 11 points in one of his better performances this season.
The Cavs turned it over 18 times and missed plenty of wide open looks, a big reason they shot just 38 percent from the field. But they also have a new attitude and a fresh identity. They are competing in games, even in hostile venues, and making the home teams sweat out difficult victories. In short, this team looks nothing like the 19-win version from a year ago.
“I think our team attitude right now is we can be contenders,” Irving said. “We feel like we have a different team, especially from last year when I watched them. Every team we play against we feel we can win.”