CLEVELAND — The NBA did the Cavaliers no favors by scheduling a 1 p.m. Martin Luther King Day game Monday after their flight landed at 4:30 a.m. Sunday from a 12-day, six-city trip.

And that doesn’t take into account the time they spent pushing cars when some members of the traveling party got stuck in the deep snow left by plows near Cleveland Hopkins Airport.

“As I told them I just want to see what we’re made of,” Cavs coach Larry Drew said. “This is just another challenge for us and I expect us to come out and play with a lot of energy and intensity and come out and play well.”

That remains a laudable yet elusive goal. With their top three frontcourt players still sidelined by injuries, the Cavs never led and fell 104-88 to the Chicago Bulls at Quicken Loans Arena. With their first triumph since Dec. 28 at Washington, the Bulls snapped a 10-game losing streak.

The Cavs have now dropped four in a row and 16 of their last 17. They were coming off a 1-5 West Coast swing that concluded Saturday in Denver, with the lone victory over the Los Angeles Lakers, playing without the injured LeBron James.

Fatigue was clearly an issue, but Drew wasn’t looking for excuses. The Cavs went 0-for-9 from the field before rookie Collin Sexton made a wide-open corner 3 off a Rodney Hood assist at the 7:52 mark. A second-quarter surge helped them cut a 16-point deficit to five (44-39), but the Bulls’ 14-2 run to start the fourth quarter decided the Cavs’ fate.

“Early I could see that they did not have their legs,” Drew said of his team. “I don’t know how much I would attribute that to road fatigue, but clearly we didn’t have the zap. I thought our bench guys came in in that second quarter and kind of gave us a little bit of a spark, but we weren’t able to sustain it.

“We won’t use it as a crutch. Chicago came in here and did what they had to do.”

Sexton said he wasn’t buying the notion that the Cavs were tired.

“Oh, no, I didn’t feel it at all. We got rest yesterday, so there’s no excuses,” Sexton said. “We played a pretty good first half, then it just got away from us.”

Shooting .348 from long range coming in, the Bulls hit 15-of-30 beyond the arc, while the Cavs managed just 6-of-27. Jabari Parker went 2-for-3, Lauri Markkanen 3-for-5 and Bobby Portis and Zach LaVine were 3-for-6 for the Bulls.

“Kind of what the defense was giving us,” Bulls guard Kris Dunn said.

“We didn’t defend the 3-point line very well,” Drew said. “They did make shots. Particularly Portis came in during that second quarter and made three 3s and we didn’t get up on him. We call those ‘dare shots.’ We gave guys dare shots and they knocked them down."

Sexton said, “We were making 'em shoot. We’ve got to get up in 'em and crowd their space just a little bit more because those shots they’re pretty easy, walk-in 3s, those are the easiest ones to shoot.”

Draft pick

The matchup was a showdown of teams vying for the No. 1 pick in the draft. In new lottery rules instituted for this season, the three worst teams in the league each will have a 14 percent chance of selecting first.

Still owning the worst record in the NBA, the Cavs fell to 9-39, while the Bulls improved to 11-36. Also in the mix are the New York Knicks (10-35) and Phoenix Suns (11-37). The Cavs are 0-3 against the Bulls with one game left in the season series, which could help in a tiebreaker scenario in the pursuit of Duke's Zion Williamson.

Bulls coach Jim Boylen was well aware of the game’s draft implications, interrupting a pregame question with “High pick.”

“It’s actually part of this business, it’s part of where we’re at, we’ve got to be real with that,” Boylen said. “What I’m hoping is we can play better basketball than we did in the last game, that we can improve in the things we need to get better at. That’s what I’m coaching and teaching and striving for.”

The Cavs played without center Tristan Thompson, sidelined for the third consecutive game with a sore left foot. It was the 13th game Thompson has missed this season from the sprain suffered in December. Also out were forwards Larry Nance Jr. (sprained right knee) and Kevin Love (left foot surgery) and guard David Nwaba (sprained left ankle).

Sexton led the Cavs with 18 points and three rebounds. Ante Zizic added 13 points and nine rebounds and Jordan Clarkson came off the bench for 12 points, five rebounds and four assists.

Point guard Sexton went without an assist and Cedi Osman, playing out of position at power forward because of the injuries, did not have a rebound.

LaVine poured in 25 points for the Bulls on 9-of-16 shooting, while Portis added 15 points (shooting 6-of-10) and five rebounds. Markkanen had 13 points and eight rebounds and Kris Dunn 13 points, four rebounds and nine assists.

 

Marla Ridenour can be reached at mridenour@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the Cavs blog at www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.