MINNEAPOLIS: As long as Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters are sidelined with injuries, the Cavaliers have to count on Anderson Varejao more than they should to provide offensive production.
On nights like Friday, when Varejao is struggling with his shot, their chances of winning are nil.
The Cavaliers lost to the Minnesota Timberwolves 91-73, because they had no one who could tap Kevin Love’s brakes and Varejao struggled with his shot most of the game.
Varejao had four points and 14 rebounds, ending his streak of consecutive double-doubles at 10 games — one shy of the franchise record.
“I’m not playing for that,” Varejao said. “I’m playing for the team.”
The thought entering the game was Varejao and Love would perhaps neutralize each other, but it didn’t exactly work out that way.
Love had 36 points, the most by a Cavs opponent this season, and 13 rebounds. He scored eight points in the game’s first four minutes, prompting Cavs coach Byron Scott to call a timeout so Tristan Thompson could grab a tourniquet. Love’s pump fakes and work in the lane and around the 3-point line sucked most of the Cavs’ bigs into foul trouble.
“He’s an All-Star,” Thompson said. “We’ve got to learn from it. We’ll play then again. Next time, we at least have to compete. Can’t just get bullied around and basically punked on the court.”
Love was 14-of-18 from the free-throw line, and the Cavs went 6-of-9 as a team from the line. The Timberwolves shot 35 free throws as a team, which angered Scott.
”I’m trying to figure out a way to say this without getting fined. It was that bad, it really was,” Scott said. “I understand we’re playing in Minnesota, but 35-9? We went to the basket just as much as they did.”
The Cavs had 38 attempts in the paint, and the Timberwolves had 34. Yet the Timberwolves shot nearly four times as many free throws.
“I think that speaks for itself,” Scott said.
Varejao was sensational during his streak, finishing all 10 games with at least 15 rebounds and five offensive rebounds. That hadn’t been done since Moses Malone had a streak of 12 consecutive games during the 1978-79 season. But Varejao shot just 2-of-10 and blew plenty of open looks around the basket, although the Timberwolves used Love on him extensively on defense, and it seemed to affect Varejao.
“It looked like Andy was running on fumes a little,” Scott said. “He just didn’t look like his old self. He might be getting a little tired, but we don’t have much time to be saddened by it. We’ve got another one tomorrow night.”
Varejao said he didn’t feel tired, yet with their best healthy player ineffective offensively, the Cavs had little chance of keeping pace. They turned the ball over 20 times, shot just 35 percent and haven’t shot better than 37 percent in any of the three games that Waiters has missed. The 73 points is a season low and the fewest the Timberwolves have allowed this season.
“We’re just not playing with a whole lot of confidence right now,” Scott said.
Alonzo Gee had 16 points, primarily on dunks, and C.J. Miles had 13 off the bench, although he had five of the team’s 20 turnovers. The Cavs’ reserves outscored the starters 37-36.
For the third consecutive game, the Cavs fell behind early and couldn’t dig their way out. They trailed 25-16 after the first quarter on Friday and have been outscored 82-44 in the first quarter over their past three games.
“Playing hard is not going to be enough all the time. We have to find a way to play smart and hard,” Miles said. “You can’t just be out there with reckless abandon. You want to play that way at certain parts of the game, but the first quarter and fourth quarter are a big difference.”
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.