CLEVELAND — Anderson Varejao winced as if he had just twisted an ankle while grabbing a rebound.
A seemingly innocent question triggered hidden pain.
Even more than three years later, the sting of losing a record 26 straight games lingers for Cleveland’s hustling center, who always makes the most of every minute on the floor. With the Philadelphia 76ers on the cusp of matching the 2010-11 Cavs’ mark for NBA futility, Varejao struggled to discuss a troubling time in his past.
So, how tough was it?
“Nobody,” Varejao said, “wants to have that record.”
And, nobody but the Cavs can understand what Philly’s players are going through.
The Sixers pulled even with Cleveland for a share of the infamous league record for consecutive losses in a single season when they lost 120-98 to the Rockets in Houston on Thursday night.
The 2010-11 season, which actually started with a stunning win over the Boston Celtics in the opener, was one Cleveland would like to forget.
It was the Cavs’ first after superstar LeBron James packed up and left as a free agent for Miami, and in the wake of his departure, the Cavs collapsed — completely.
Under first-year coach Byron Scott, the Cavs went from 61 wins to 19. And beginning with a loss to Utah on Dec. 20, 2010, they began an ill-fated, 26-game stumble that didn’t end until they defeated the Los Angeles Clippers in OT on Feb. 11, 2011.
In between, there were several close calls — they lost 11 games by 10 points or less — and a few blowouts, including a 112-57 shellacking on the road against the Los Angeles Lakers, the most lopsided loss in franchise history.
Before the Cavs hosted Toronto on Tuesday night, Varejao reluctantly re-visited those inglorious days. He initially declined an interview request, but after some polite prodding, the affable Brazilian shared a few thoughts on what it’s like to go nearly two months without a win.
“I don’t really want to talk about it,” he said, standing in the hallway outside Cleveland’s locker room. “It’s just something I really don’t think about. The way it happened, to us, every game we had a chance to win. It wasn’t like everyone was blowing us out. We had a lot of injuries and that’s all that I can really remember, we had a lot of injuries. We had a lot of games that we had a good chance to win and we didn’t.
“It’s just tough when you do everything right and you compete to win and it doesn’t happen.”
Varejao and guard Alonzo Gee are the only players left on Cleveland’s roster from that calamitous season.
Before they unknowingly embarked on their epic losing streak, the Cavs dropped 10 in a row before beating the New York Knicks in overtime on Dec. 18. They took the floor two nights later against the Jazz believing they would win, and Varejao said that feeling never changed even as the losses piled up.
The Sixers haven’t won since Jan. 29, and there has been criticism that they have intentionally “tanked” this season to improve their chances of winning the NBA lottery.
Varejao isn’t rooting for the Sixers to lose and erase the Cavs’ name from the record book.
He knows what it’s like to be the butt of jokes, to be kicked when you’re already down.
Varejao has been there.
“If they get it, it’s too bad for them,” he said. “It’s a tough time and it’s not easy. I don’t even think they think about how many games they’ve lost. It’s just one of those things where you go out to win and you end up losing.”
Over and over.