Chances run out for Cavs in loss, but not yet on season

Cleveland Cavaliers' Kyrie Irving (2) drives past Dallas Mavericks' Shane Larkin (3) during the second quarter of an NBA basketball game Monday, Jan. 20, 2014, in Cleveland.

Tony Dejak/AP

CLEVELAND — So many emotions go into watching the Cavaliers this season, but here’s a thought you should probably cling to: They’re still in it.

It’s the truth, and unless you keep repeating it, you may need to enroll in some sort of mental institution for NBA fans gone mad.

The latest example came Monday afternoon, when the Cavs dropped a (somewhat) hard-fought decision to the visiting Dallas Mavericks, 102-97.

The crowd of 18,762 groaned, sat on its hands, probably fell asleep for a little bit, then cheered wildly. In Cleveland, fans often get to experience a full gamut of sensations in just 48 minutes.

The Cavs never led by more than two points. They trailed by as many as 24. They received zero points from Dion Waiters, the Eastern Conference’s highest-scoring reserve (15.3 ppg). They missed a whopping six free throws in the fourth quarter.

Yet there they were, down three, with the ball, against of the league’s most-experienced and capable teams, with 2.8 seconds to go.

It was utter elation inside The Q.

But these are the Cavs, and they’re still learning to close out games.

It starts with me, on and off the floor

-Kyrie Irving

They’re also still learning the basics of the inbounds pass — as Jarrett Jack was whistled for a five-second violation on that crucial final attempt.

That should never happen in the NBA, not with the outcome in the balance, not when you’re talking about guys who are supposed to be masters of their craft, and especially not when talents like Kyrie Irving and Luol Deng are on the floor.

It definitely should never happen TWICE in one game, which is the pitiful feat the Cavs pulled off Monday.

But OK. Let’s take a breath now, because the Cavs still have four straight home games remaining. Three of those opponents (Bulls, Bucks and Pelicans) sport losing records.

So you can almost accept losing to Dirk Nowitzki and a balanced and deep team like the Mavs. They won a title three years ago — and along with Nowitzki (17 points, 10 rebounds) and Shawn Marion (18 points, 7-of-8 shooting), they have some new and talented pieces such as Monta Ellis (22 points) and Jose Calderon (six assists).

For the Cavs, this was definitely a toughie, and the final score was really no surprise. The Mavs (25-18) were already good and seem to be getting better.

And there was the usual dose of hope.

Irving scored 16 points in the third quarter to lead a bit of rally, finishing with game-highs of 26 points and nine assists. Luol Deng offered another fine showing (his first as a member of the Cavs in Cleveland) with 20 points on just eight shots. Anderson Varejao erupted for 18 points and 21 boards. And Tristan Thompson was pure hustle on his way to 19 points and 10 boards (nine of which came in the second half).

But at some point, and soon, the Cavs (15-26) have to do more than live off promise.

They have to win a game they shouldn’t win. They have to put a winning streak together. They have to offer their fans and themselves something concrete, to act like a professional outfit from start to finish.

Coach Mike Brown feels like they’re close, and it’s hard to argue with that. Irving, who is about to start in his first All-Star game, thinks so, too.

"It starts with me, on and off the floor," Irving said. "But I can definitely feel a sense of optimism and we’re definitely more comfortable playing together now."

With the way the East is going, the Cavs still have a shot. They’re still in it. Just remember that. Or go nuts.

"Close, but not enough," Thompson said of Monday’s loss.

And with that, the Cavs will carry on, try to improve, and get the next one. In the meantime, you should use this time to relax, because the next 48 minutes aren’t far off.