CLEVELAND: Fifteen thoughts for 15 points from Kyrie Irving in a 96-83 loss to the Wizards that dropped the Cavs five games out of the postseason race…
1. It’s hard to pound on the Cavs for losing these games considering they’re playing without three cogs in the machine. They’re missing their leading rebounder in Anderson Varejao, their best 3-point shooter in C.J. Miles and their third-leading scorer in Dion Waiters. Any team would have difficulty overcoming those personnel losses.
2. The Cavs still had a shot in the fourth quarter, however, just as they were in the game in the fourth quarter Friday at Toronto. But Kyrie Irving shot 0-for-5 in the fourth quarter Sunday (his only two points came at the free-throw line) and he didn’t have any assists. That’s not to put it all on him, but the Cavs’ best player must be better than that to win games like these.
3. Irving was terrific in three previous games against the Wizards this season and it appeared John Wall had finally had enough. Irving averaged 30.7 points and 7.7 assists through the first three games in this series, but he had 15 points and five assists Sunday. Wall, meanwhile, had 21 points and nine assists.
4. “I just have to raise my level,” Irving said, “which I will do.”
5. He’s not alone. Luol Deng said he was anxious to get to the All-Star break to give his body, particularly his aching Achilles, a chance to rest. Deng conceded Sunday he was dragging his leg a little bit leading up to the break, but he hasn’t been much better post-break either. Deng is shooting 33 percent (21-for-64) in his last five games. “I’m just a terrible player,” he joked.
6. Seriously, though, he insisted he’s feeling better. “I really feel I’m moving a lot better,” he said. “I think my timing will come the more I spend in practice. But just running and moving, I feel a lot better than I did right before the All-Star break.”
7. After Deng said the other night it’s getting exhausting talking about his contract, I jokingly promised him I’d wait at least 10 days before bringing it up again (truthfully it has only come up a couple of times since he arrived in Cleveland).
8. Sergey Karasev apparently didn’t know about the gag order. He held his phone up to Deng like a reporter would hold a recorder and asked him about signing a max contract this summer. Deng playfully told him to shut up and go away.
9. Tyler Zeller played only 14 minutes tonight – and I’m speculating here – but he could be on the verge of losing the starting spot to Spencer Hawes. Zeller had a hard time keeping Marcin Gortat out of the lane and off the glass. Zeller started great with six points and four rebounds in the first quarter, but he only played seven minutes the rest of the night and didn’t register much of an impact.
10. Mike Brown went with Hawes most of the rest of the way. Hawes played 32 minutes off the bench, scored 16 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. Hawes has still only had one practice and a couple of morning walkthroughs, so Brown could hold off starting him a little longer. Plus it’s hard to predict right now how close Varejao is to returning, but the Cavs have been pleased with what they’ve seen so far out of Hawes.
11. Hawes is better than I thought he was around the basket. He’s big and strong and did a decent job on Gortat and he hit one of the Cavs’ two 3-pointers (they shot 2-for-18 from 3, which certainly didn’t help their cause). But Hawes is still trying to grow familiar with the rest of his new teammates.
12. “I have to get a better rhythm with him,” Irving said. “I have to get him more acclimated and feeling comfortable out there. I want him to be dialed in a little more and it starts with me as the point guard. … I’m going to get my timing down with him. Hopefully it will only take another game or two.”
13. Waiters said before the game he hasn’t started running yet and will miss at least a couple more games. Miles is still dealing with swelling in the ankle. I didn’t see Varejao tonight, and there hasn’t been much information available on his back or injury status.
14. The real problem here is all the games the Cavs gave away earlier in the season. Just like everyone knew back then, those early-season losses to the Bucks, Sixers and Celtics sure are looming large right about now. I’d include the Bobcats in that list, but it’s amazing Charlotte has remained in the playoff hunt – and is climbing – given its personnel. As of right now, Steve Clifford has my vote for Coach of the Year.
15. I’d call this a big week for the Cavs, but they’re all big weeks from here on out. This is certainly a busy week, however, with a pair of back-to-backs. First are the Raptors and Thunder, followed by the Jazz and Grizzlies. Talk to you Tuesday after the Raptors game.