CLEVELAND — The month of March has been so bad for the Cavaliers that they have turned to someone who hasn’t played in two years to help them turn things around.
The Cavs and Larry Sanders agreed to a deal Monday for the rest of the season that includes a team option for the following year.
Sanders, 28, hasn’t played in the NBA in two seasons — since he was bought out from his contract by the Milwaukee Bucks in February 2015 after a suspension for marijuana use and his apparent lack of commitment to professional basketball.
How can a player with such a track record be the answer for the defending NBA champions, who find themselves reeling in March from a 2-5 record and injuries that won’t cease?
Sanders is tall, breathing, and when he last wore a uniform, could rebound. The Cavs could use someone like that for their frontcourt.
The Detroit Pistons, who visit Quicken Loans Arena at 7 p.m. Tuesday, outrebounded Cleveland 45-41 when they beat the Cavs in Auburn Hills, Mich. last week.
“We’re small,” Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said. “You’ve got to play LeBron (James) at the 4 some and got to play Derrick Williams at the 4 some, RJ (Richard Jefferson) at the 4. We are undersized, but you’ve still got to box out and be physical and try the best we can. We do miss Kevin’s (Love) defensive rebounding, which is big for us, but we still have to go out and do it.”
The Cavs were destroyed on the glass Sunday by the Houston Rockets in a 117-112 loss. Houston held a 52-38 rebounding edge and collected 20 offensive boards.
Cleveland’s rebounding disadvantage wasn’t so pronounced in a 106-101 loss to the Pistons on March 9, but the problems in the frontcourt right now are real. Love hasn’t played since his minor knee surgery on Valentine’s Day. The Cavs are 6-6 without him and his 20 points and 11.1 rebounds per night.
They thought Andrew Bogut would give them some help in the post this month when he signed as a free agent March 6, but he broke his leg 58 seconds into his first game and is done for the season.
The Cavs are also without sharpshooter Kyle Korver right now (foot injury) and have been hampered by an illness Lue has dealt with for more than two weeks. Cleveland has home games against the Pistons and Utah this week before playing six of the next seven on the road.
“There’s not one week that’s more important than another,” said James, who has three triple-doubles this month. “You try to build and build and build and create habits going into the postseason. It’s not one week that’s bigger than another, not one game that’s bigger than another. It’s a long season. It’s a process. We’ll figure it out. We’re a team that’s capable of doing that. We’ve got a couple home games. We knew March was going to be tough when you look at the schedule in the beginning. At the end of the day, we’ll figure it out.”
While the Cavs (43-22) are clinging to first in the Eastern Conference, the Pistons (33-33) were in seventh when play began Monday. They have won two straight, beating Cleveland and then cruising past the New York Knicks 112-92 Saturday.
Winners of four of the last five, the Pistons are starting to resemble the team that tested the Cavs in the opening round of the playoffs last season, which ended in a sweep but had four competitive games.
Detroit trailed Cleveland by as many as 15 in the first quarter last week, before Pistons forward Marcus Morris unleashed a tirade on teammates that seemed to have sparked them.
“We are a good team, and at times people come in and they kick our (expletive),” Morris said, according to MLive.com. “I think we was just laying down before the game started. I told guys, if they don’t want to play to stay in the locker room. That’s really what it came down to.”