Notes, quotes and observations after the Cavs fell 117-112 to the Houston Rockets Sunday night at Toyota Center.
1. The Rockets wanted to make a statement, to prove they are contenders for the NBA title, to measure themselves against the defending champions. The Cavs, meanwhile, are trying to survive a grueling March, to put together their team with some key pieces still missing, to, as Kyrie Irving said, "learn about each other."
2. With the Cavs playing the second night of a back-to-back and on the final night of a three-game road trip, the measure may have been somewhat skewed. But the Rockets didn't care. For them the victory was a confidence boost.
3. Judging by LeBron James' mood, it meant something to him, too, even if it was to make a personal statement that he belongs in the MVP race with the Rockets' James Harden and the Thunder's Russell Westbrook.
4. Actually, the mood in the Cavs' locker room was subdued all around. Richard Jefferson dressed quickly despite a season-high 16 points on 6 of 6 shooting from the field, 4 for 4 from 3-point range. Perhaps it was the fact he didn't score in the second half. Only Kyrie Irving and James spoke to the media.
5. The most conversation came from former Cavs coach John Lucas, who brought with him 6-foot-8 forward Jarred Vanderbilt, a University of Kentucky recruit from Victory Prep in Houston. Vanderbilt posed for a picture with James and also with DeAndre Liggins, who played for Kentucky.
6. Harden said the victory gave the Rockets a lot of confidence because they got off to a hot start, then relaxed, allowing the Cavs to jump out to 14-point lead in the second quarter. But in the third quarter Harden said the Rockets "locked in defensively" and held the Cavs to 38 percent shooting, 25 percent (3 of 12) from 3-point range.
7. It gives us a lot of confidence knowing that we can guard," said Harden, who had his 16th triple-double of the season and first since the All-Star break. "We're gonna have to guard to win. Tonight was big for us."
8. But it was bigger in terms of the bigger picture for the Rockets, currently the third seed in the West, 6 1/2 games behind the Warriors.
9. "It's time to prepare ourselves for the post-season," Harden said. "It's a big win for us because they're the defending champs. We can't have any letups. Every game is an opportunity for us to get better."
10. The Rockets have defeated the two teams ahead of them in the standings, the Warriors (132-127, 2OT on Dec. 1) and the Spurs (101-99 on Nov. 9). Both of those were on the road.
11. "For us this was a big win in the sense of, you know, the champions," Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said. "We beat Golden State, we beat San Antonio, but that was earlier. So this was good."
12. The Cavs' downfall was being outrebounded 20-4 on the offensive glass. Nene and Clint Capela had four each, Harden three. Tristan Thompson had all four for the Cavs.
13. The four tied the Cavs' season low that has now happened four times, last previously at Milwaukee on Feb. 27.
14. "Just got to box out. Basketball 101," Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. "Just hitting your man, bringing the physicality to box out. A couple of them when you have a smaller guy on Nene or Capela you can live with those because if you’re switching and they’re getting offensive rebounds on a big over our guards, it’s different. But when it’s your matchup and you can’t get the rebound, you don’t box out, then that’s on us."
15. Kyrie Irving thought the offensive boards were a product of the amount of 30-pointers shot, 45 by the Rockets (16 hit) and 43 by the Cavs (17 hit).
16. "Long shots equal long rebounds," Irvin said. "They were getting to the 50-50 basketballs. Patrick Beverley two possessions in a row gets four free throws. My lack of box out turns it from a three-point game to a six- or seven-point game. Here and there some plays, some long rebounds that ended up into some 3s for them and they capitalized."
17. One factor in that disparity is the absence of Kevin Love, returning soon after arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. This season only two players on the Cavs have reached triple digits in offensive rebounds -- Tristan Thompson (242) and Love (115).
18. James agreed that the 3-pointers had something to do with the offensive rebounding.
19. "They shoot a lot of threes and there’s going to be a lot of crazy bounces off the rim. They did a good job of crashing glass obviously," James said. "If we get some of those we give ourselves a better chance to win. They had 20 offensive rebounds and I had eight turnovers personally and that doesn’t help the cause, on the road especially."
20. Those eight turnovers equaled James' season-high, the other two instances coming against Chicago and Boston. The Cavs committed 15 turnovers, which led to 19 points, the Rockets made only six (10 points).
21. Irving understands the motivation of the Rockets and the other teams they will face going down the stretch.
22. "Every team we’re getting their best shots, teams that are fighting for playoff spots, it’s even more as we’re going down the stretch," Irving said. "I’m looking forward to every team’s best shot. You have to. But that means we all have to execute at an even higher level. That next level that we’re trying to get to, there’s another plateau that we’re trying to get to before we go into the playoffs. Right now we’re just in a little rough patch and we understand that. But no time to hold our head down. Just hold every man accountable and we’ll be all right."
23. The Cavs return home for games Tuesday against the Pistons and Thursday against the Jazz before leaving on their third three-city road trip of the month, this one for four games against the Lakers, Clippers, Nuggets and Hornets. But Lue doesn't consider this an important week.
24. "Just get back on the winning track. Get home. Play better," Lue said. "I thought tonight we played good. Against a good team like that, you can’t give them 20 offensive rebounds, they shoot 42 percent from the field but then again they had 28 free throws also. Just take those things away and we played a good game. I thought it was competitive, I thought we competed all the way down to the wire." He also thought Irving and James tired at the end, but James didn't agree.
25. Even though the Cavs are 2-5 in March, James said no one week is more important than the other.
26. "Every week is important," James said. "You try to build and build and build and create habits going into the postseason. It’s not one week that’s bigger than another, not one game that’s bigger than another. It’s a long season. It’s a process. We’ll figure it out. We’re a team that capable of doing that. We’ve got a couple home games. We knew March was going to be tough when you look at the schedule in the beginning. At the end of the day, we’ll figure it out."
27. Irving seemed to have a good understanding of what needs to be done before the regular season ends.
28. "We understand we have a lot to learn about each other going forward, as well as our game plan and how we execute," Irving said. "This isn’t a hard month. There’s nothing too hard, especially in the game of basketball. It’s just going out there and competing, making sure that we’re all in tune. Once we all get on the same page we’ll definitely look like a better basketball club. But as of right now, we just have a lot more to learn. That’s what it really boils down to. This is not a perfect team right now and we understand that. The challenges right now that we face will kind of dictate where we are in the next two weeks, next three weeks going into April. I’m looking forward to it."
29. Seventeen games remain for the Cavs (41-24). They have a two-game lead on Washington and Boston for the No. 1 seed in the East, although the Celtics are three back in the loss column.
30. Lue said he doesn't care about the No. 1 seed and he meant it.
31. "I’m not concerned. They’ve still got to catch us," he said. "We’ll see. If you’re going to be a championship team, you’ve got to win on the road, anyway. We’ll see what happens."
32. Heading back in Cleveland for Tuesday's game against the Pistons. Check back then.