CLEVELAND: Every missed shot, every blown defensive coverage and every missed opportunity carries added significance right now. At this point, every loss feels incredibly damaging to the Cavaliers’ playoff chances.
Their 96-83 loss Sunday to the Washington Wizards dropped them five games out of the final playoff spot with 25 games left to play. Most everyone is watching the clock these days as the postseason train prepares to pull out of the station.
“Time is of the essence right now,” Kyrie Irving said after missing all five of his shots in the fourth quarter — a recurring theme for a team that struggled throughout the second half offensively. “We still have a goal in mind to accomplish and we’ll do everything in our power to do it.”
It’s going to take a fantastic finish to the season to get there. The last two losses have been to the Toronto Raptors and now the Wizards — two teams they’re trying to catch in the playoff chase.
“You have no choice but to pay attention to [the standings],” Irving said. “We want to accomplish something, but it starts with every single game. We’ve played against two teams that were in playoff position. It was a big test for us. … Going forward we have to be better.”
The Cavs scored just 11 points in the fourth quarter and 31 in the second half. It was their second consecutive loss and they were again forced to play without Dion Waiters, C.J. Miles and Anderson Varejao.
Their absences were felt offensively, particularly in the second half. The Cavs were within 78-74 following an Anthony Bennett dunk early in the fourth quarter, but they managed just one other basket for the next nine minutes. The Cavs made two of their first 14 shots in the fourth quarter and turned the ball over six times before a short jumper from Luol Deng finally ended the ineptness. By then, the Wizards’ lead had swelled to 14.
“Every day, every game if you’re not winning, you’re decreasing your chances,” Deng said. “The biggest thing sometimes is putting a stop to losing. Just as great as you feel when you’re winning, when you start losing, the confidence drops a little bit.”
Irving had 15 points, five rebounds and assists, Spencer Hawes had 16 points and 12 rebounds in his home debut and Tristan Thompson had 11 points and 12 rebounds. Deng had 17 points and seven rebounds, but shot 4-for-13 as his post All-Star break shooting slump continued.
Deng is shooting just 33 percent (21-for-64) in his last five games.
No one played well offensively in the second. The 31 points just missed a season low for points in a half (29) and the pace and ball movement slowed dramatically.
The Cavs scored 52 points, shot 49 percent and had 11 assists on 21 baskets in the first half. They shot 26 percent, made 1 of 10 3-pointers and had just four assists in the second half.
“It was almost like we played in an elevator at times,” Mike Brown said.
The Wizards played the fourth quarter without Nene after he suffered a knee injury, but they survived without him. John Wall had 21 points and nine assists and Marcin Gortat had 13 points and 13 rebounds as the Wizards climbed back to .500.
It doesn’t get any easier with a pair of first-place teams next up with a rematch against the Raptors on Tuesday followed by a trip to the Western Conference-leading Oklahoma City Thunder.
“We can’t afford to have the type of lulls we have right now throughout the course of games and expect to win,” Brown said. “Especially against teams sitting in front of us and fighting for playoff position themselves.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.