CLEVELAND, Ohio — The Atlanta Hawks’ win against Detroit early Sunday afternoon left the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls battling to avoid the Eastern Conference cellar.
Through 34 games, the Cavs are officially the worst team in the conference.
In a back-and-forth game that featured 18 lead changes and three ties, the Cavs dropped their 26th game of the season and second against the Bulls 112-92.
The Cavs got off to a good start on Sunday, building a five-point halftime lead behind some hot shooting. They went 25-of-46 (54.3 percent) from the field in the first half, taking advantage of Chicago’s feeble defense.
But the third quarter was once again their Achilles’ heel. Unable to sustain the same energy level while regressing on the offensive end, the Cavs were outscored 30-15 in a frightful 12-minute stretch. They went just 6-of-17 from the field and the sloppy offense carried over to the other end of the floor, as the Bulls made 12 of their 18 shot attempts.
The fourth quarter wasn’t much better. The Cavs were outscored 28-18.
Earlier this week, Larry Nance Jr. spoke about the Cavs falling into old habits late in games. The ball stops moving. There’s too much one-on-one. The defense lets up.
“We were playing, don’t want to say we were playing the best of defense, but we made it tougher for them,” Nance said. “Then in the second half, we took bad shots and turnovers, which just let them get run-outs, layups, 3’s. Second half was an onslaught.”
Sustaining high-level play for four quarters has become a challenge, especially with numerous players in and out of the lineup. On Sunday, the Cavs clearly missed Rodney Hood’s offensive lift. Jaron Blossomgame, who started in Hood’s spot, scored zero points on 0-of-2 from the field.
Rookie Collin Sexton seems to have sprinted headfirst into the rookie wall.
He tallied six points on 3-of-16 from the field. His counterpart, Ryan Arcidiacono — once an undrafted free agent — scored 12 points on 5-of-8 from the field to go with eight assists and four rebounds.
The Cavs finished with more turnovers (12) than assists (11).
It all led to one of the worst performances of the season. Probably fitting considering what was at stake.
When the final buzzer sounded, the Cavs walked off the floor, dejected, frustrated and embarrassed. These are the kinds of losses that will drive the organization crazy. These are the ones that lead to longer-than-usual messages from head coach Larry Drew.
“Even with what has taken place this season, and it hasn’t gone the way that obviously any of us had hoped that it would have gone — I never even imagined that I would be in this situation — but it is what it is and we still have a job to do,” Drew said. “We have an obligation. We’re being paid to do. Every night that we step out on that floor, we should play inspired, and there’s no reason, there’s no excuse not to come out and play hard, not to come out and play with energy and to really compete at a high level.”
A 20-point loss against one of the league’s worst teams? No matter, the circumstances, that’s unacceptable.
“Not learning. Lack of growth. We’re not using our losses as lessons,” Nance said. “It’s tough to keep doing so. At the beginning of the season, it’s easy to go, ‘Alright we lost that game and here’s what went wrong and now we have to fix it.’ We’re kind of at the point where it’s like, ‘What was it this time?’ We’re trying to fix things on the fly whereas having a couple of days off, we can regroup and mentally get ready to go on this second half stretch.”
Perhaps in a few months, when the Cavs, Bulls and Hawks are jockeying for lottery position, a pair of losses against Chicago — a flawed team that will likely also be in the No. 1 pick mix — may come in handy. Maybe the Cavs will be able to look back on Sunday’s game as an important one for their future.
Just not yet. During this horrible season, Cleveland has been able to speak about its unrelenting fight. The Cavs have been able to take away positives from losses, show toughness and pride even in defeat.
Sunday wasn’t one of those games. The only positive to come from this loss: improved draft positioning.
David Nwaba exits in the fourth quarter
Rugged swingman David Nwaba, playing against one of his old teams, entered the game with a sprained left ankle. Drew didn’t know pregame if Nwaba would be able to suit up. But Nwaba worked out prior to tipoff and showed the training staff that he was ready.
Late in the fourth quarter, Nwaba landed awkwardly on his left leg, rolling his ankle while coming down after contesting a shot.
Unable to put much weight on his leg, a pair of teammates assisted Nwaba straight to the locker room.
The Cavs will have Christmas Day off for the first time in five years. They will open a three-game homestand in Memphis on Wednesday.