By Jason Lloyd
Beacon Journal sports writer
INDEPENDENCE: The acquisition of Luol Deng this week signified the Cavaliers are serious about making the playoffs this season, but they have a lot of work to do to get there.
The Cavs departed Thursday for their longest — and perhaps their most important — road trip of the season. They began the day at 12-23, tied for the third-worst record in the East. They are only two games out of the final playoff spot, but there are three teams ahead of them in the East. As the season nears its halfway point, the Cavs can ill-afford to lose any more ground.
“It has that sort of importance,” Kyrie Irving said. “It’s an important road trip for us, for our identity and for our record.”
There are only three teams above .500 in the East, making this a strange season even by the conference’s traditionally-weak standards. The eighth seed in the East has averaged 38 victories the past five seasons. With so many teams below .500, a worse record this season might still qualify. But in order for the Cavs to get to 38 victories, they’ll have to go 26-21 the rest of the way.
Making that even more daunting is the Cavs have played one of the weaker schedules to this point, yet are still floundering.
Mike Brown conceded the Cavs are running out of time to turn around the season, but didn’t want to put all the pressure to do so on this trip.
“We have to win some games. We can’t expect to try to make up ground in March and April and it starts now,” Brown said. “But for me to say we need to win 35 of the next 47 games, I’m not going to do that. But yeah, we have to win some games. We can’t afford to lose games in bunches. Hopefully it starts tomorrow.”
Deng’s presence should help. Following the formal portion of practice Thursday, Brown spent some time running through a few basic plays with his newest player. Deng averaged 19 points this season in the Bulls’ defensive-minded system that is similar to Brown’s.
“It’s going to take a while to get all the plays down,” Deng said. “But the offense is not hard to figure out.”
Following tonight’s game at the Utah Jazz, the Cavs play at the Sacramento Kings, at the Los Angeles Lakers, at the Portland Trail Blazers and at the Denver Nuggets. They have struggled in recent years at most of those venues, but the first three stops are certainly winnable. The Jazz, Kings and Lakers are the three worst teams in the Western Conference, but the Cavs’ 2-15 road record is the worst in the NBA.
Brown defined a successful trip as “playing the right way.”
“Obviously I want to go 5-0, but I’m not a guy that forecasts that far ahead,” he said. “I like the direction we’re heading in. We played a lot better in the month of December than we did the month of November and hopefully that trend will continue.”
Irving still second
Irving remains second among Eastern Conference guards in voting and seems a lock to start the All-Star game next month. Irving has 652,522 votes and has a healthy lead over Derrick Rose, who is third with 323,099.
The top two vote getters start. Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat leads the East guards with 718,109. Deng is 11th among frontcourt players. Voting ends Jan. 20.
Irving was having difficulty talking Thursday because he had a root canal in the morning. He still practiced, but joked the right side of his face was still numb.
Jarrett Jack (back spasms) participated in practice Thursday and should be available to return. … Brown confirmed Anthony Bennett will remain in the rotation as the backup power forward, meaning Earl Clark’s minutes will be slashed drastically. Clark was the starting small forward, but Deng is among the league leaders in minutes played. Clark can also play power forward, but Brown seems content sticking with the rookie Bennett for now.
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.