With or without Kyrie Irving, the Cleveland Cavaliers have been dreadful on offense over the past week.
It might be hard to imagine them having similar problems against a woeful team that has been terrible defensively, like the one they face Monday night when they visit the Phoenix Suns, but that's just what happened in their last outing.
Irving should return to the court after being rested Saturday in Portland, where the Eastern Conference leaders somehow were dominated from the outset in a 105-76 loss.
''Throw it in the trash,” said LeBron James, who matched his worst offensive effort of the season with 12 points on 4-of-13 shooting. “There was nothing good we did tonight.”
It was a particularly surprising result considering the Trail Blazers entered with a five-game losing streak and allowing 106.0 points per game in December. They now share the same 12-20 record as the Suns, who have dropped four straight and are giving up an average of 105.4 points to rank 27th in the league.
The Cavs (19-9), though, are coming off a 36.4 percent shooting performance that was the worst by a Portland opponent in more than a month. Granted, a sluggish effort that included 17 turnovers came one night after a grueling NBA Finals rematch at Golden State in an 89-83 loss. But Cleveland wasn't much better offensively in its previous game despite being at home against sub-.500 New York, shooting 38.6 percent in a 91-84 win.
''Offensively, we are in a funk right now,'' said James, who's 5 for 34 (14.7 percent) from 3-point range in December.
It's the first time since January 2014 that Cleveland hasn't shot 40 percent in three straight games – they're at 25.3 percent from 3-point range during this slump – but Irving was inactive for that previous stretch and James was with Miami.
Irving has played limited minutes in three games back from a broken kneecap suffered in the Finals, shooting 29.4 percent, and was given Saturday off with the team not wanting him to play consecutive days. That could be the case again this week with the Cavaliers in Denver on Tuesday to close a four-game trip.
Additionally, Iman Shumpert has only played six games since being out with a wrist injury, and he's shot 5 for 26 in the last four.
“With the lineup changing a little bit, it's natural that things kind of get a little bit out of whack,” coach David Blatt said. “… Obviously we gotta get guys back in shape, back into the flow.”
The Suns aren't healthy physically or mentally.
As if it wasn't bad enough they lost at home Saturday to Philadelphia, which entered with a 1-30 record and a 23-game road losing streak, top scorer Eric Bledsoe left with a sprained knee in the second quarter.
Bledsoe will have surgery Tuesday to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee and reports have surfaced that he could be out until after the All-Star break.
''Said a little prayer for him and hope for the best,'' guard Ronnie Price said.
The 111-104 loss to the woeful 76ers was a new low point for Phoenix, which has lost seven of 10 at home and 15 of 20 overall.
“It seems like they're all lacking a little on confidence,” Hornacek said. “… Sometimes when you're struggling, there's a little more pressure. You just gotta play, you gotta have confidence.”
With rumors building that coach Jeff Hornacek's job could be in jeopardy, the Suns decided to fire two of his assistants early Monday. Jerry Sichting and Mike Longabardi were relieved of their duties while assistants Earl Watson and Nate Bjorgken have been promoted to bench coaches.
The Suns did manage a 107-100 win in Cleveland's lone trip to Phoenix last season – even with Irving at full strength and James scoring 33 – but Markieff Morris had a game-high 35 points. Morris is completing a two-game suspension for throwing a towel at Hornacek.
That game is James' only loss in his last 13 against the Suns, and he's averaged 33.0 points in his past nine in Phoenix.