CLEVELAND: For all the attention devoted to Byron Scott’s surprising lineup change, the problems in the Cavaliers’ frontcourt had much more to do with their 97-94 loss to the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday than Dion Waiters losing his starting job.
With Anderson Varejao still sidelined nursing a sore knee, the Cavs had little resistance against powerful Kings center DeMarcus Cousins, who had 18 points and 16 rebounds and generally made life miserable for anyone defending him.
He bowled over Luke Walton as if he was a bowling pin, he flicked Tyler Zeller out of the lane with one paw chasing a rebound in the fourth quarter and he carried the Kings to a decisive 52-36 advantage in points in the paint.
It was another difficult loss in a season full of them. The Kings began the night just 1-13 on the road and losers of seven straight on the road. They are also embarking on this four-game East Coast trip without two of their top three leading scorers in Tyreke Evans (15.1 points per game) and Marcus Thornton (13.3).
None of that mattered Wednesday at Quicken Loans Arena. Cousins and Jason Thompson outscored the Cavs’ starting combination of Tyler Zeller and Tristan Thompson 37-17.
“We could say this almost every game — we miss Andy big-time,” Scott said. Most of the teams we’re playing are physical. He’s the one equalizer.”
Scott conceded Zeller has been struggling the last few games. Brook Lopez destroyed him in the first quarter in Brooklyn the other night and Cousins shoved him around on Wednesday. Zeller had eight points and eight rebounds, but lost a key pass out of bounds when the ball trickled off his hands. All he had to do was catch it, dribble twice and dunk it, but he looked on in agony as the ball bounced away from him.
Scott thought Zeller has looked overmatched at times lately, but other than the first quarter against Lopez the other night, Zeller thinks he’s hung in just fine for a rookie.
“I think it’s all the losing,” Zeller said. “You get close, you put so much into it and then you come up just short every night. It starts to wear on you.”
In an effort to shake up the losing and add balance to the first and second units, Scott sent Waiters and his 36 percent shooting performance to the bench in place of the red-hot C.J. Miles. Miles responded with 12 points in the first quarter, but didn’t score again and missed his last five shots after the first quarter. Waiters began 2-of-8 shooting, but finished by making six of his last 11 shots and scored 20 points. Scott said Waiters wasn’t happy with the benching, but Waiters did his best not to grouse about it publicly.
“I’m not going to sit here and talk about it,” Waiters said. “I’m here to do whatever the team needs me to do. Coach made a change. I can’t say nothing. I have to go out there and play.”
Kyrie Irving had 22 points, five rebounds and six assists, but three critical turnovers in the fourth quarter. With the Cavs trailing 92-90, he slipped in the lane going for a shot and fell to the ground. He tried flipping a pass to Alonzo Gee, but the ball trickled out of bounds for a crucial turnover.
Compounding his problem, Aaron Brooks blew by Irving at the other end for an easy layup and a 94-90 lead while the Q crowd aptly chanted “DE-FENSE” and saw none.
“It’s just a learning process,” Irving said. “We did a great job of competing in the fourth quarter and getting stops when we needed to, but one mistake by myself when I slip in the middle of the lane, it’s a turnover and they come down and hit a [layup[. That’s the game.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at email@example.com. 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.