Cavs show the kind of moxie they have to have

Dion Waiters, starting for just the 10th time this season, compiled the first double-double of his career with 17 points and a game-high 11 assists.

CLEVELAND — A lot is riding on these final 14 games for the Cavaliers.

There may be a few jobs on the line, a few roster spots that are yet to be determined, a playoff spot that has yet to be entirely closed.

So the reasons to play hard and win games are many, because so much of the rest of this year, and how the Cavs enter next year, are so seemingly up in the air. Nothing has been decided.

And when it comes to effort, energy and a willingness to do whatever it takes, you can safely say the Cavs are 1-0 after Tuesday’s tough 100-96 defeat at the hands of LeBron James and the visiting Miami Heat.

You already knew the Cavs (26-42) were without Kyrie Irving and Luol Deng, especially Irving, their Mr. Everything who is out a minimum of two weeks with a strained left biceps.

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But not having Deng, day-to-day with a sprained ankle, didn’t help, either. He was coming off an excellent trip to the West Coast, a trip in which the Cavs won two of three and started to again find some semblance of chemistry.

Deng has historically given that James guy on the other side some major fits as well.

Instead, James made 10 of his first 11 shots, scoring 25 points in the first quarter — and finishing with 43 for the game. Remarkably, he did it without even making a field goal in the fourth quarter.

But back to the Cavs.

Dion Waiters, starting for just the 10th time this season, compiled the first double-double of his career with 17 points and a game-high 11 assists. Mostly, the man flat-out went after it.

Jarrett Jack added the type of game that the Cavs have longed to receive from him since bringing him here over the summer, scoring 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting. That included a couple of gutsy threes with time winding down, just to make sure the Heat stayed on edge.

And Anderson Varejao, bless his determined heart, donated his body to the tune of 16 points and 11 rebounds off the bench.

"We got a lot of good stuff from a lot of different people," said Cavs coach Mike Brown, who seemed about as cheerful after a loss as he has been all season. "We just came up short down the stretch."

LeBron's 43 lead Heat over Cavaliers

On the not-so-bright side, the Cavs’ loss was followed by the Atlanta Hawks’ fifth straight win (over the Toronto Raptors in overtime). That leaves the Cavs six games behind the Hawks for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference — with just 14 games to go.

I promise that if the Cavs win all 14, they will make the playoffs. They might even move up to the sixth seed in that instance.

That, of course, seems unlikely.

What’s appears more doable is for them to give the type of effort they did Tuesday, and not just against teams like the Heat. They have to do it against the Toronto Raptors and Charlotte Bobcats and Atlanta Hawks, too.

The Cavs’ playoffs have begun. But they are playing for so much more than that right now. They’re playing for their present, yes, but for their future, too. What happens this season is likely to determine what happens next, from the front office on down.

Finishing strong usually brings reward, and hey, it sure beats the alternative. With the way the Cavs played Tuesday, it’s not hard to believe they understand that.

It was a loss when they needed a win, but it’s a good start to the most meaningful stretch of the season.