CLEVELAND — Cavaliers coach David Blatt figured the best way to handle his first loss was with a joke.
”Well,” he said. ”I guess we’re not going 90-0 this year.”
No, the Cavs are far from perfect – and far from a finished product.
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Chandler Parsons and Jameer Nelson scored 19 points apiece and the Dallas Mavericks beat Cleveland 108-102 on Friday night, handing the Cavs their first loss of the preseason.
Dirk Nowitzki added 16 points and nine rebounds for the Mavericks, who befuddled Cleveland with a zone defense and stuck with their starters in the fourth quarter when the Cavs rested LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. Kevin Love didn’t play in Cleveland’s third exhibition in four nights.
After breaking down some of what went wrong, Blatt decided there was no sense in making excuses.
”We just didn’t have it,” he said. ”We came out flat. We were a little tired. Dallas is a great team. We just kind of played poorly and they took advantage of it.”
Irving returned to the lineup after missing three games with a sprained right ankle and led Cleveland with 23 points. Tristan Thompson had 17 and James 12 before sitting out the fourth.
Dallas led from the outset, opening a 16-point lead in the first half. The Cavs, who struggled shooting against the zone, were still within three points in the final two minutes but Brandan Wright scored underneath and the Mavericks held on.
Blatt said Dallas coach Rick Carlisle caught Cleveland by surprise with his zone, and because the Cavs haven’t been practicing during a busy week, they didn’t adjust.
”I told the guys after the game Carlisle played the old European zone against the old European coach and I didn’t do a very good job,” Blatt said.
Before the game, James said he wasn’t worried that he, Irving and Love haven’t played much together in the preseason. Each of the All-Stars has missed time with injuries or to get rest.
”I’m only concerned that we’re all healthy when the season starts,” James said. ”We’ll have time throughout practices and regular season games to make the adjustments that are needed. But we need to be healthy. That’s all that matters.”
Cleveland opens on Oct. 30 at home against the Knicks.
Following the game, James said Cleveland’s ”Big 3” needs some time on the floor together.
”We definitely want to get some work in,” he said. ”We’ve had some work in practice but you want to get some work in in game situations, too. The rhythm for us three is going to have to come throughout the regular season anyways. Even if we played all seven preseason games together, we would still need to go through things during the regular season to see what we like and what we don’t like as a unit.
”It’s not concerning.”
It was Love’s turn to get a night off as Blatt rested the forward, who came out of Wednesday’s game in Cincinnati with a stiff neck after a collision. Love had played in Cleveland’s previous four exhibitions. Veteran forward Shawn Marion also got the night off.
Dallas did just about anything it wanted to offensively early on, scoring 37 points in the first quarter and shooting 57 percent from the floor.
With owner Mark Cuban on hand, Carlisle started his first five for this first time in the preseason. The Mavericks made their first five 3-pointers and were getting wide-open looks at the basket as the Cavs offered little resistance.
Cleveland’s defense tightened in the second quarter, and although James didn’t score, he had an impact at both ends and the Cavs outscored the Mavericks 29-19 to pull to 56-55 at halftime.
James wasn’t in the offensive flow early on and that was partially his own doing and partly because of referee Derek Richardson.
On a fastbreak, James was running the right wing when he bumped into Richardson and fell near Cleveland’s bench. A few minutes later, James was again racing up court when he was slowed by Richardson, who was out in front of him and didn’t get out of the superstar’s way quick enough.
Browns rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel sat courtside and his teammates Joe Haden and Jordan Cameron were also in attendance.