Cavaliers slip past Magic 91-85
BY EDDIE DILWORTH
CAVS BEAT WRITER
The dog days of the NBA schedule are here. Teams are fighting for playoff seedings while attempting to gain momentum as the postseason draws near. Such wasn't the case Sunday afternoon for the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Orlando Magic.
Instead of playoff positioning, the Cavs and Magic jockey for residence in the NBA's basement. The Magic entered Sunday having lost 12 of their last 13 contests, and the Cavs haven't been much better. Cleveland snapped a season-worst 10-game losing streak in Boston on Friday and kept the momentum flowing with a 91-85 win over the Magic in Quicken Loans Arena.
"Good win," Cavs head coach Byron Scott said after his team ended a five-game home losing steak. "On the defensive end, I thought our guys did a lot of good things just like we did in Boston, and that's basically why we got the win tonight."
The Cavs (23-52) held on to defeat Orlando (19-58) despite another less than stellar performance from Kyrie Irving. Irving had struggled in the Cavs' previous two outings, shooting an unsatisfactory 9-for-36 from the field in the two contests. His struggles from the field continued against Orlando as Irving went 3-of-10 in the first half and 3-of-15 overall. The second-year superstar finished with nine points and 10 assists.
"I'm probably in the worst shooting slump ever in my short career," Irving said. "I'm not really worried about that. I'm just going to do anything I need to do in order to get the win. I'm going to fight for these guys. Obviously my shot is not going to fall every night. It's the law of averages.
"As long as I can contribute on the defensive end, that's my job."
Irving's head coach isn't concerned about his star player.
"I'm not worried about Kyrie shooting," Scott said. "Kyrie will be fine."
It appeared as if the game all but over when Irving converted two free throws that gave Cleveland an 89-82 lead with 1:23 to play. However, Magic forward Tobias Harris sank a layup plus the foul on Orlando's next possession. After Harris added the free throw, Orlando trailed 89-85 with 1:12 remaining. As both teams had done for much of the game, Orlando and Cleveland struggled to make shots down the stretch.
Orlando did not score in the final 1:12 and Cleveland managed only two Wayne Ellington free throws, which iced the game with 12.4 seconds to play. Cleveland escaped with a victory despite shooting just 36 percent from the field, their lowest total in a win this season.
"I thought defensively we were ok all night long," Scott said. "(We) had a couple breakdowns, but the effort was great. Offensively, we just couldn't seem to get in a good rhythm, but defensively, I thought we were pretty much all over the place. In the fourth quarter, we just buckled down."
Several Cavaliers picked up the slack as Irving didn't have it going. Alonzo Gee finished with 19 points and seven rebounds while Tristan Thompson kept up his solid play, tallying his 28th double-double of the season with 15 points and 16 rebounds.
"He's been awesome," Irving said of Thompson. "He's been unbelievable. We're going to keep feeding him. He's rebounding his butt off right now and we need that energy from him going forward."
Orlando only received significant contributions from three players. Nikola Vucevic was a monster. The man from Montenegro totaled 21 points, 21 rebounds and six assists, while second-year forward Tobias Harris finished with 26 points and 12 rebounds. Beno Udrih added 13 points, six assists and four rebounds.
"He (Vucevic) was really good," Magic head coach Jacque Vaughn said. "In the scouting report, we talked about how (the Cavs) bigs were pretty good over the series with us, offensive rebounding and being pretty physical. Nik really stepped up and tried to set the tone for our bigs tonight, which was great to see."
The Cavs squared off against a severely depleted Magic team. Orlando was without three of their top four scorers in Arron Afflalo, Glen Davis and Jameer Nelson. Cleveland however, was without Luke Walton and rookie guard Dion Waiters, who missed his ninth consecutive game because of loose cartilage in his left knee. Another early injury for the Cavaliers didn't help matters against Orlando.
Cavs guard C.J. Miles left the game with 8:47 to play in the second quarter after taking an inadvertent Vucevic elbow to the face. Miles was on the floor for several minutes and received six stitches in his forehead after heading to the locker room. He did not return to the game.
"I told him the scar will be an improvement, so he'll be fine," Scott jested after saying Miles looked fine in the locker room after the game.
Miles was hot early, shooting 3-of-5 from the field with eight points in six minutes, but his teammates were not as fevered.
Despite the warming weather in Cleveland, the Cavs were cold early. Cleveland started the game 1-of-8 from the field and trailed 10-2 after Harris knocked down a floater. The slow start continued as Cleveland shot just 33 percent in the first quarter and trailed 24-22 when the period ended. The Cavs shooting numbers only marginally improved in the second quarter.
Cleveland never led in the first quarter, but two Shaun Livingston free throws gave the Cavs their first lead of the night, a 28-26 advantage early in the second. Nevertheless, Cleveland's frigid shooting continued as the team managed only a 36 percent (17-47) output from the field in the first half. The Cavs trailed Orlando, who wrapped up a five-game road trip, 48-44 at halftime.
"It's pride thing for us, and we're going to continue to finish out the season strong," Irving said after his team won the season series 3-1 over Orlando.
Brighter days are ahead for the Magic, but the future looks especially aglow for the Cavaliers. They already have Irving in house, assuming the team can keep him in Cleveland by surrounding him with enough talent. If the other pieces of the Cavaliers' young core, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller, blossom into talented NBA players, Cleveland will be well off. Add their 2013 lottery pick and an accomplished free agent or two, the Cavs could be contenders in roughly three years.