Cavs can’t handle scorching Nets, and that hurts

Crafty veteran Paul Pierce was too much for the Cavs' Tristan Thompson on this night.

Kathy Kmonicek/AP

Well, that just stinks.

The Cavaliers didn’t really do anything horribly wrong in their 108-97 loss at Brooklyn on Friday. They just didn’t do nearly as much right as the Nets. And sometimes, that’s the way it goes in the NBA. The other guy is just better for a night.

Problem is, the Cavs can’t really afford anymore slipups — overmatched or not. You know it, I know it, the Cavs know it. To their credit, they have played better, smarter and harder over the previous two weeks or so. But you can’t get to the playoffs on credit. You gotta make deposits, and Friday night at the fancy Barclays Center, that was all the Nets.

They buried every important 3-pointer, many of which were challenged. Crafty veteran Paul Pierce was simply unstoppable in the first half, scoring each of his game-high 22 points in the first 24 minutes. He’s been playing power forward in the Nets’ small lineup, and it’s been a disaster for everyone (except the Nets). He’s not necessarily quick, but he has range and smarts, and he was too much for the Cavs’ Tristan Thompson on this night.

But it’s not the end of the world just yet. It’s getting really, really close, yes. With just eight games to go, the Cavs (29-45) are 3.5 out of the final playoff spot. It will basically take a basketball miracle — but as coach Mike Brown has indicated, if you keep playing the right way, good things can happen when you least expect it.

It’s true the Cavs lost, and it’s true they were sloppy at times. Mostly, though, the Nets were just on fire. Again, sometimes, opponents just have it going and there’s not a whole lot you can do.

The Cavs, on the other hand, really struggled shooting (42 percent), which has been a theme way too much in this season. Either they don’t possess a true marksman or they don’t work on it enough at practice. Quite honestly, it’s probably a little bit of both.

It also could have something to do with fatigue. The Cavs had won three straight heading into Friday, playing all-out and hustling basketball. Against the Nets, the Cavs almost looked like they were running with 50-pound weights strapped to their ankles.

"I feel bad for the guys in the locker room," Brown said. "It’s tough to swallow."

Dion Waiters (20 points) and Jarrett Jack (nine points, seven assists) each topped 40 minutes Friday, and Luol Deng (20 points) went for 38. Interestingly, Spencer Hawes scored 15 points in the first half, but only one in the second, playing just six of the final 24 minutes.

Part of that is because Brown has been utilizing a smaller lineup of Waiters, Jack and rookie guard Matthew Dellavedova. Part of it is because something just hasn’t been right with Hawes. There may be something to the fact Hawes’ sort-of decline has coincided with the absence of Irving.

Whatever the case, again, the Cavs have to do more than play well. They must win. Must. Now.

"I was disappointed in the outcome, because I expect more from this team," Brown said.

It stinks, but the Cavs have no choice but to put it behind them. Two more outcomes like this, and that will about do it for the season. And that, Cavs fans, will truly be tough to swallow.