Cleveland is in a 10-day stretch with plenty of strong opponents, but its next game is a much-needed break.
After a lopsided defeat to the top team in basketball, the Cavaliers head to Brooklyn on Wednesday night to take on a Nets team piling up losses against just about any level of competition.
The Cavaliers (28-11) are coming off Monday's 132-98 home loss to Golden State, in which they fell behind by 30 in the first half and allowed the lead to grow to as much as 43. It came four days after a loss in San Antonio, and Cleveland follows this game with home contests against the Los Angeles Clippers and Chicago.
“Obviously, you want to play well against the top teams and we haven't done that,” said LeBron James, who has averaged 18.8 points and shot 41.7 percent in Cleveland's last four losses. “We're 0-3 against the top two teams in the West and 0-1 against the Bulls so far. We have to play better basketball. We have a long way to go. Tonight was an example of how far we need to go to get to a championship level. We have to continue to get better.”
Cleveland's top three scorers – James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love – were held to a combined 11 of 32 and 27 points.
J.R. Smith had 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting before being ejected in the third quarter for a Flagrant 2 foul, the latest in a series of punishments handed down for the shooting guard. He also arrived at the arena less than an hour before tip-off.
“He got very frustrated tonight with what was happening,” coach David Blatt said. “… That does concern me. That's not a situation he can allow himself to get into because he's an important player for the team, and what he does and what happens impacts the team.”
Smith has been more important lately, averaging 18.0 points and 43.9 percent from 3-point range over the last eight games. Meanwhile, backcourt mate Irving has been inconsistent and shot 36.3 percent in his last five games, and Love has been held to 9.8 points and 29.8 percent in his last four.
“We've got to do a better job helping (Love),” Blatt said.
The Cavs have won five of the last six meetings with the Nets, including a 90-88 home victory Nov. 28 to open the season series with Love scoring 26 points and hitting 6 of 11 from 3-point range.
Brooklyn (11-31) might welcome such a close loss. The Nets have dropped three in a row and eight of nine with the defeats coming by an average of 15.6 points. In Monday's 112-100 loss in Toronto, they fell despite shooting 51.3 percent and making 13 of 24 from 3-point range.
Each opponent on the three-game skid has topped 50.0 percent overall while the Nets have a minus-5.3 turnover margin.
“It seems like the same old story,” interim coach Tony Brown said. “We get down late in stretches of the game, some of the things we were doing really well, we started turning the ball over late.”
It's overshadowed some improvement from Joe Johnson, who had 22 points on 9-of-12 shooting. He's averaging 15.8 points on 58.7 percent in his last six games after posting marks of 11.0 and 36.4 in his first 36 games.
The Nets have lost 11 of 12 at home, while the Cavs have won seven of eight on the road.