LOS ANGELES: The evidence behind how important of a game this was to the Cavaliers was hidden in the box score. During his first two games with his new team, Deng had a soft 30-minute limit as part of a precaution given his recent Achilles injury.
Against the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday, the first game after Sunday’s miserable 44-point loss to the Sacramento Kings, Deng played 38 minutes. The Cavs needed every one of them and every one of his 27 points in a 120-118 victory that was much more difficult than it should’ve been given the Lakers’ injury-ravaged roster.
At this point, however, the Cavs aren’t picky. Every win feels like a big one. They’ve won three of their last four games and have doubled their road victories total through their first three stops on this road trip.
Deng began the night shooting 28 percent on 3-pointers, but he went 5-for-5, including three big ones in the third quarter to turn the momentum after the Lakers scored 40 points in the second quarter to send the Cavs stumbling to the locker room down 6.
As for Deng’s minute limit?
“What minute limit? We’re trying to win, baby,” Brown said. “It’s out the window right now. If I get reprimanded, I’ll think about it later.”
Most players tried downplaying the importance of this game, but this West Coast trip began against the only three teams in the West with sub-.400 winning percentages.
The Cavs were already embarrassed by one of those teams Sunday in a 44-point loss to the Kings, then trailed the Lakers 63-57 at the half after the Cavs’ defense disintegrated in the second quarter. The Lakers, with just nine healthy players, shot 13-for-17 in the quarter and scored more points than any team has against the Cavs in a single quarter.
“I thought tonight we were bad defensively, but offensively we did a lot of good things that we don’t want to go unnoticed,” Deng said. “I thought our bigs were great. Andy and Tristan kept us in the game with offensive rebounding and second-chance shots.”
Anderson Varejao had 18 points, 18 rebounds and 6 assists, falling just shy of his first career triple-double. Dion Waiters had 17 points off the bench despite battling early foul trouble and Kyrie Irving had 13 points and 4 assists while battling late foul trouble.
With Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Jordan Farmar and Steve Blake out with injuries, the Lakers had little firepower. Even Pau Gasol was a game-time decision with a toe injury. Still, the Cavs struggled putting them away until the game’s final seconds.
Nick Young made three free throws to pull the Lakers within 118-116 with 25 seconds left. Tristan Thompson split a pair of free throws, giving the Lakers a chance to tie and force overtime. But Young’s 3-pointer with 10 seconds left rattled out and Thompson grabbed the rebound and the victory.
Despite constant questions about his return to Los Angeles, Brown insisted he didn’t feel any vindication winning here after the Lakers fired him just five games into last season. He’s more worried about trying to coax this young team into the playoffs.
The rest of this trip gets more difficult. The Cavs play at the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday, the current No. 2 seed in the West, before finishing the trip at the Denver Nuggets, who are also battling for a playoff berth.
But the Cavs are assured of returning home with at least two road wins after starting this trip with an awful 2-15 road record.
“I’ll fly for 24 hours to get a win on the road, I don’t care where it is,” Brown said. “We’re in L.A., I’m happy to get a win in L.A. If we were in Golden State, I’d be happy to get the win in Golden State. So it’s not anything extra special. I’m just excited to get a road win.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.