Cavs on verge of NBA futility record
So close. So tantalizingly close.
That's about as good as the Cleveland Cavaliers can hope for these days.
Their long losing streak is almost history.
Cleveland's slide reached 22 straight — one shy of the NBA's single-season record — as Danny Granger scored 23 points and Darren Collison added 22 to lead the Indiana Pacers to a 117-112 win over the Cavs, who are still winless in 2011 and losers of 32 of 33.
''We're disappointed. It's frustrating,'' forward Anthony Parker said. ''We had opportunities to win and we came up short. We've got to find a way to get it done.''
Unless they can prevail on Friday in Memphis, the Cavs (8-41) will match the league's all-time mark for consecutive futility, a record shared by the 1995-96 expansion Vancouver Grizzlies and 1997-98 Denver Nuggets, who each dropped 23 in a row.
Cavs coach Byron Scott played on that dreadful Vancouver team. He's now coaching one that could soon be equally as pathetic.
''It hurts,'' Scott said. ''When you lose games it hurts, especially when you give yourself an opportunity to win, it hurts that much more. We had an opportunity.''
Actually, several of them.
The Cavs had chances to pull out their first win since beating the New York Knicks in overtime on Dec. 18, but Parker missed a runner in the lane with 18.8 seconds left, J.J. Hickson fumbled away a pass underneath and Granger iced it by making four free throws in the final 17 seconds.
Ramon Sessions scored 25 points and Antawn Jamison had 21 for Cleveland, falling further than it ever imagined in its first season without superstar LeBron James.
The Cavs fought until the end, something they rarely did while going 0-for-January. This was better, much better, but still not good enough for a team missing several key players because of injuries.
Just like comic Bill Murray's character in the movie ''Groundhog Day,'' it was more of the same on Groundhog Day for the Cavs.
''That one took a lot out of us,'' said Sessions, who added nine assists and went 13 of 14 from the line. ''We felt like we played well. We weren't able to close them out.''
With the score tied 110-all, Collison drained a key three-pointer from the left side with 1:08 to play, forcing the Cavs to call a timeout. Christian Eyenga then hit a tough jumper to pull Cleveland within one, and when Parker grabbed a miss by Granger, the Cavs seemed to be in business.
But Parker's short shot — he thought there was contact — in the lane rimmed out, and Granger was fouled. He made both free throws to give the Pacers a 115-112 lead. On Cleveland's next possession, Sessions drove in the paint and drew two defenders before dumping the ball underneath to Hickson, who fumbled it and the Cavs' chance slipped away with it.
''Tough pass,'' Hickson said. ''Should've caught it.''
When the horn sounded, Scott dropped his head and a small, but boisterous, Cleveland crowd headed toward the exits and another cold ride home.
The Pacers improved to 4-0 this season over the Cavs and won its second straight under interim coach Frank Vogel, who replaced the fired Jim O'Brien last week.
Before the game, Vogel joked about not being well known outside the Pacers' locker room. He went to lunch on Wednesday with center Roy Hibbert and wasn't recognized.
''People don't know who I am,'' Vogel cracked. ''I'm not surprised. A number of folks came up and asked for Roy's autograph. I may as well have been the ballboy. That's fine with me.''
Vogel complimented the Cavs for hanging tough despite missing starters Anderson Varejao, Mo Williams and Daniel Gibson.
''Give all the credit in the world to that team,'' Vogel said. ''They're in a tough situation with everything, with LeBron and what they're going through. You feel for their guys. They deserve to get back on the winning track. I'm very glad it wasn't tonight.''
Cleveland's been beyond bad of late. Before taking the lead in the third quarter on Sessions' three-point play with 1:15 left, the Cavs had gone more than 217 playing minutes without holding a lead.
The Cavs' struggles, and the remnants of the powerful Midwest blizzard, combined to keep people away from Quicken Loans Arena in droves.
The 20,000-seat building was only about one-third filled, and it didn't take long for those in attendance to lose interest. The Cavs missed their first 10 shots and fell behind 14-2 before finally making their first field goal. But even when Cleveland does something right these days, it seems to backfire.
Cavs swingman Alonzo Gee delivered a powerful, two-handed dunk that nearly sent some of his teammates on Cleveland's bench onto the floor. But Gee was slapped with a technical for hanging on the rim, and the Pacers responded by going on a 15-3 run to open a 17-point lead.
The Cavs didn't cave, though.
Manny Harris made a three-pointer with 3.9 seconds left in the quarter to cap an 18-6 run that pulled Cleveland within 59-54 at halftime. They were within two to start the fourth, and for a while it seemed as if it would finally be the Cavaliers' night.
They're still waiting for it.
NOTES: With heavy snow in the forecast, the Pacers flew directly to Cleveland from Toronto after their game Monday night. ... A die-hard Pittsburgh Steelers fan since he was a kid, Scott hasn't decided whether he'll attend the Super Bowl on Sunday in Dallas. The Cavs play the Mavericks on Monday, but Scott isn't sure he wants to deal with the large crowd or being recognized by some Celtics fan. ''I just don't like being around one hundred and some thousand people,'' he said. ... Cavs G Mo Williams has begun on-court activities as he rehabs from a hip injury that's sidelined him for two weeks.