For Cavaliers, progress still painful

For the majority of the season, the Cavaliers have played really well for three quarters. Maybe even three-and-a-half.

But as they’re slowly discovering in these days minus the injured Kyrie Irving, not just anyone can finish the job.

It’s a difficult lesson the Cavs absorbed once again Monday at Memphis, where they failed to capitalize on another strong overall showing.

Final score: Grizzlies 84, Cavs 78.

The outcome was eerily similar to a couple of stops this past weekend in Orlando and, especially, Miami.

Like the Heat, the Grizzlies can make a case as the best team in their conference. The Cavs took both teams to the wire — and a lot of observers will tell you the Cavs actually should have won.

Remember, we’re talking about the defending champions (Heat) and a team that believes it can reach the Finals (Grizzlies). And with the Grizzlies’ 10-2 record and commitment to suffocating opponents, it might be time to start believing.

As for the Cavs, well, these are what you call moral victories, kids. The team and its fans don’t necessarily like them, but right now, they probably have to accept them. Heck, they probably have to occasionally celebrate them.

There’s just too much working against the Cavs (3-11) to expect much else.

The goal this year is to make progress. Even without Irving, who’s projected to miss several more weeks with a broken finger, the Cavs are showing some.

Man, are they ever.

But when it comes to actually winning, that’s probably a script for another day. On the bright side, that day may not be far off.

As I told our guys, we just got to keep competing like this,” said Cavs coach Byron Scott. “Sooner or later, being in this situation this many times, we’ll find a way to break through it.”

Of the first 14 games, the Cavs have played 10 on the road. That includes the stops in Miami and Memphis, as well as Oklahoma City and Los Angeles against the Clippers (the Cavs won the latter).

Also, 10 of the Cavs’ first 14 opponents made the playoffs last season. The Cavs possess a .214 winning percentage, but it’s been a .214 schedule.

Eventually, they might start finishing these games. For now, however, it’s likely to be more like Monday’s mini-meltdown in Memphis.

It’s a shame, too, because center Anderson Varejao has just been a wild, remarkable man. On Monday, he pulled down 22 rebounds, or just three less than the team record set by Rick Roberson in 1972. Varejao also finished with 15 points on 7-for-11 shooting.

But those numbers don’t begin to describe Varejao’s worth. This guy makes loose balls cringe in fear, realizing he’s about to pounce on and squeeze them. He’s all arms and legs and energy on defense, relentlessly hounding the opposition.

Varejao is, in short, a basketball spaz.

“We have been playing hard,” he said. “If we keep playing like that we are going to find a way to get some wins.”

Rookie guard Dion Waiters added 15 points and veteran guard Daniel Gibson scored 11 off the bench. Of course, most of the talk (and highlight shows) will feature Alonzo Gee’s astonishing one-handed putback dunk of a missed shot with 44 seconds left in the game. That cut the Grizzlies’ lead to two points.

Unfortunately for the Cavs, it was also their final basket of the night.

The Cavs actually entered the fourth quarter with a 69-62 lead. Then the Grizzlies scored six straight and it was Game On.

Yes, the Cavs scored just nine points in the final 12 minutes, and the Grizzlies closed it with a 13-4 run.

Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol each scored 19 points to pace Memphis.

The Cavs return home Tuesday against Phoenix. The Suns, who have been in Cleveland since Sunday night, erased a 26-point deficit against the Cavs for a 107-105 win Nov. 9.

So, as you can see, this has been going on for a while now. It likely won’t forever, and once the Cavs start finishing these things, there’s a chance that it could become a new habit.

But they’re gonna have to break this one first.

Follow Sam Amico on Twitter @SamAmicoFSO