DALLAS: A trip that began with a humiliating loss to the New York Knicks ended with a more competitive 124-107 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Monday. For a team that has endured the type of week the Cavaliers just did, that qualifies as progress.
It certainly doesn’t help fading playoff aspirations, which seem to drift farther away with every defeat. The Cavs have now lost five in a row and seven of their last eight, falling to the Mavericks for the second time in two weeks.
Whereas the first loss to the Mavs sent this team tumbling down the woeful Eastern Conference, the Cavs returned home early this morning at least feeling good about how they competed in Texas losses to the Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks.
Included in that progress is Anthony Bennett, who played more minutes off the bench than any reserve and finished in double figures for the second time in four games.
The Mavericks led most of the night, although the Cavs pulled within 66-64 when Tristan Thompson split a pair of free throws midway through the third quarter. But the Cavs went scoreless for the next two minutes while the Mavericks made three consecutive shots to extend the lead to 73-64.
The Mavs slowly built the lead out to 106-87 on a basket from Samuel Dalembert with 8:10 left in the fourth quarter. The Cavs cut it to 10, but couldn’t get any closer.
Kyrie Irving had 27 points and eight assists, Luol Deng had 18 points and seven rebounds and Thompson had 17 points and eight rebounds.
Anderson Varejao had 10 points and five rebounds in his return to the lineup after missing three games with a knee injury, but he was on a 25-minute limit and the Cavs were outrebounded 44-30. Dion Waiters went scoreless in 10 minutes.
Dirk Nowitzki had 23 points and eight rebounds for the Mavericks, while Jose Calderon had 11 points and 10 assists.
The pitiful loss last week to the Knicks behind them, the Cavs have been encouraged by what they’ve seen with the new starting lineup that includes Jarrett Jack.
Jack was the loudest on the floor at times Monday, directing guys where to go defensively while keeping the ball moving offensively.
With Varejao back, Tyler Zeller played only three minutes off the bench. The bulk of the time went to Bennett, with Thompson shifting to center. Bennett had 11 points in 26 minutes.
Bennett struggled at times defensively, committing five fouls including a couple foolish ones because he took the wrong position, but it was another step of progress in a season bereft of much for the rookie.
Sooner than later, the progress simply from playing hard won’t be good enough and the Cavs will actually have to start winning games.
They face the Los Angeles Lakers at home on Wednesday in a game they really need to win.
“It’s no secret we need to get wins to build that confidence,” coach Mike Brown said. “For us that’s the biggest thing.”
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.