With LeBron James still sidelined, the injury-plagued Cleveland Cavaliers are on the verge of dropping to .500 for the first time in over six weeks.
The Cavaliers try to avoid a season-worst fifth consecutive loss as they visit the lowly Sacramento Kings on Sunday night.
Cleveland (19-18) has understandably had a rough go without James, who will miss an eighth consecutive game due to a sore left knee. The four-time NBA MVP, averaging 25.2 points to rank second in the league, is reportedly targeting Thursday for a possible return.
The Cavaliers were also without Shawn Marion (hip) in Friday’s 112-94 loss at Golden State, their first stop on a five-game road swing against Western Conference foes. J.R. Smith led all scorers with 27 points in his second game since being acquired from New York along with the injured Iman Shumpert (shoulder).
The Cavs haven’t been at or below the break-even mark since they were 7-7 on Nov. 26.
"It’s tough right now, but when we do get back to full strength we’re going to be good," Kevin Love said after posting 17 points and 14 rebounds for his fourth consecutive double-double. "I feel like we have the pieces when Iman and Bron get back and (Marion) is healthy that we’ll be able to put this all together. We just have to continue to fight, continue to keep pushing. I know I sound like a broken record over the past few games, but that continues to hold true."
Cleveland has been limited to 90.1 points per game and 39.4 percent shooting in dropping seven of eight, with four of those defeats coming by at least 16 points. The Cavs were within striking distance against the NBA-leading Warriors before getting outscored 17-5 over the final 4:19.
"I think we get tired down the stretch and we make some mistakes, and perhaps we let down a little bit defensively," coach David Blatt said. "Some of that is fatigue and maybe even over the course of the game you get worn down a little bit, but again, our guys really, really competed. … We just have to be better with the ball and not lose our intensity level towards the end."
Cleveland had dropped three straight to Sacramento before winning 109-99 on Feb. 11, their 11th victory in 15 matchups since 2006-07.
The Kings (15-21) have lost 16 of their last 22 for the West’s second-worst record since Nov. 26. They’ve giving up 104.2 points per game for one the NBA’s worst marks.
Sacramento put on a defensive clinic in Wednesday’s 104-83 win over Oklahoma City before its woes resumed in Friday’s 118-108 defeat to Denver.
DeMarcus Cousins poured in 32 points to go with 13 rebounds, four blocks and three steals, but the Kings had no answer for a Nuggets team that shot a season-high 55.3 percent. Sacramento is 3-19 when its opponents shoot above 43.0 percent.
Cousins finished 12 of 25 from the field after going a combined 11 for 40 over the previous two games. He’s averaging 30.0 points and 12.8 rebounds over a five-game stretch at home.
Cavs guard Kyrie Irving has scored 61 points in the last two games after sitting out Monday with lower back tightness. He’s averaging 26.5 points in his last four on the road.
Cleveland is 4-9 against the West, including a 1-5 record away from home. The Cavs are shooting 42.8 percent on the road, one of the league’s worst marks.