CLEVELAND – Losses like this just can’t be justified.
You can talk all you want about the Cavaliers’ youth. You can talk about their inexperience playing together. You can throw in the fact Minnesota guard Luke Ridnour looked in the mirror and saw Jerry West.
But none of that excuses the way the Cavs got dismantled by a 100-92 count to the visiting Timberwolves on Monday.
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The Cavs won’t call it an embarrassment, and that’s fine. But there’s no other way to describe it.
These weren’t the Wolves of Kevin Love. They weren’t even the Wolves of Andrei Kirilenko. They were the Wolves of the disappointing Derrick Williams, the typically so-so Ridnour, the guys that managed to win a measly three of their first 19 games without the injured Love.
Well, make it four out of 20, as the Cavs found a way to make Ridnour look like West and Nikola Pekovic like George Mikan.
This isn’t intended to pick on the Timberwolves, who have played hard through an assortment of awful injuries.
It is, however, intended pick on the Cavs.
And the bottom line is they need to stop looking past every boring opponent whose best players are sporting stitches, casts and street clothes.
The Cavs say they know that — but they sure don’t act like it. Not now and hardly ever.
If this game was against the Los Angeles Lakers or Oklahoma City Thunder, the Cavs would’ve at least played determined basketball.
Instead, they stood around and watched, casually observing as teammates went one-on-one and tried to rack up stats. Not the good kind of stats, either. We’re talking about who could fire up the most shots. Or as the case was on this night, who could fire up the most bad shots.
And let’s just say the competition was fierce.
“They seemed to think, ‘OK, this should be an easy win, so I’m gonna get mine,’” Cavs coach Byron Scott said of his players. “You can’t play that way.”
Well, you can. But this is the fruit of those non-labors.
The Timberwolves trotted out a starting five that featured Williams at power forward and some guy named Mickael Gelebale at small forward.
Gelebale is nothing more than a journeyman of sorts — in Europe. He signed to two 10-day contracts with Minnesota in January, then for the rest of the season last week.
If he gets to go against the Cavs every night, he just might become the NBA’s highest-paid player.
He made all three of his wide-open three-pointers, scored 11 points and grabbed six rebounds. And Gelebale was the worst of his T-Wolves teammates.
Ridnour scored 21 and hit every big shot. The usually lumbering Pekovic scored 16 and pulled down 10 boards, and did so rather effortlessly. Williams and Ricky Rubio added 13 points a piece.
Ugh, don’t remind us. Kyrie Irving scored 20, but was hardly Mr. Fourth Quarter on this night, with two of his jumpers hitting the backboard — and nothing else.
Rookie guard Dion Waiters added 12 points on 6-of-6 shooting, but also committed a whopping six turnovers. Waiters was so sloppy Scott benched him for the final 16:11.
And fellow rookie Tyler Zeller was no picnic himself at center. Zeller took two shots, missed both, and badly mishandled just about everything thrown his way.
It’s as if Zeller just suddenly grew to 7-feet, stepped onto the court for the first time and saw a white tiger lunging his way. Worse, he’s had too many nights like this lately. Somebody needs to let the kid know it’s time to pull it together, man, and whoever it is doesn’t necessarily need to be overly kind about it.
Although, this can hardly be pinned on one guy. On most nights, it’s a team sport. But if the Cavs (16-36) proved anything, it’s that they know how to make it something other than that.
“I’m baffled,” Scott said. “We had a little adversity, and we scattered.”
That needs to end, and it needs to end yesterday. The Cavs have already said they know it. Clearly, they don’t. It’s that whole “actions speak louder than words” thing.
“They haven’t learned (that you need to be motivated for every opponent), and that’s obvious,” Scott said.
Yeah. It sure is. And it’s more than maddening. It’s unjustifiable.