CLEVELAND — Finding new ways to describe the Cavaliers’ habit of keeping games close, and then losing, may be the most difficult part of this season.
But the nice thing is they’re keeping it close.
In a city that’s begging for a reason to taunt opposing fans, a reason to experience how it feels to win and win a lot, maybe that doesn’t sound like much of a prize.
Maybe the Cavs’ 118-117 thriller of a double-overtime loss to visiting Portland on Saturday did nothing but make your stomach churn — again.
And it’s OK to hurt. That is, after all, what the players and coaches do. So does management. In spite of all the talk of tanking and lottery picks and assets from fans, GM Chris Grant aches with every missed shot and failed defensive stand.
These days, the Cavs are compiling plenty of both.
“We played with fire and we got burned,” Cavs coach Byron Scott said of Saturday’s loss.
Scott was answering a question about the game-winning three-pointer from the corner, made by Trail Blazers forward Nicolas Batum with 0.2 seconds left.
Batum was extremely well-defended by Alonzo Gee on the play. It was just a great shot.
But as Scott said, that shot wasn’t why the Cavs lost the game. Everything else that happened before it was significantly more vital.
Scott admitted the Cavs played hard, but chastised them for not playing smart.
What he didn’t want to talk about was the Cavs’ overall inexperience in these situations — the fact they again played without injured guard Kyrie Irving and the questionable goaltending call on Cavs forward Tristan Thompson that led to the first overtime.
Let’s be thankful Scott and the Cavs aren’t in the excuse-making business.
Instead, what they have been doing, most nights, is precisely what most fans who follow the team closely were hoping for. All those fans wanted was for the Cavs to compete, for them to put on a show. They wanted the Cavs to display progress.
Most nights, that’s exactly what the Cavs are doing.
“We had a couple of inexcusable mistakes defensively,” said rookie center Tyler Zeller, who blocked J.J. Hickson’s shot in what looked like a possible game-clincher. “We just have to fix those mistakes and be better at the end of games.”
Sounds simple, but Zeller is no dummy.
That really is all the Cavs need to do.
They did it Friday in Atlanta. They didn’t do it Saturday vs. Portland, or Monday in Memphis, or last week in Miami and Orlando.
But they had a chance. Every time, they had a chance.
For some folks, that means nothing. For some folks, nothing less than a victory will do. And that’s OK. That’s the bottom line in sports, right?
Well, not always. Not for this Cavs team, not for this season. We knew that going in.
So what are we left with?
How about celebrating Anderson Varejao, the center everyone thought might be on his way out in a rumored trade for Andrew Bynum (now with Philadelphia) over the summer?
Now, Bynum may not play this season due to possessing scrambled eggs for knees. Now, Varejao is better than ever, finishing with 19 points and 17 rebounds for his eighth straight double-double.
These aren’t just any double-doubles, either. Varejao has simply been magnificent, a reason for even non-NBA fans to tune in.
Any fan who ever questioned the effort of professional athletes needs to give Varejao five minutes of their time. He’ll change their minds in two.
Others, such as rookie guard Dion Waiters (12 points, seven assists), small forward Alonzo Gee (22 points), Zeller (14 points, 10 boards) and even Omri Casspi (11 points off the bench) are slowly starting to come around.
Yes, Waiters was a miserable 4-for-17 from the floor, and he can be inconsistent in his shot selection and overall decision-making. But he’s still an excellent set-up man for a guy whose played less than 20 NBA games — and his explosiveness and promise are clear.
So, what’s the point?
Well, the Cavs (4-13) are more than their record. And for the people who only judge them by wins and losses are probably missing out.
If you can look past that, it’s been a lot of fun.