CLEVELAND — The nation got to see just how bad a state the Cavaliers are in right now.
Playing in front of a national television audience on ABC, which no doubt lost a lot of viewers early, the Cavs were humiliated 120-88 by the Houston Rockets on Saturday night at boo-filled Quicken Loans Arena.
“It don’t look like it,” coach Tyronn Lue said when asked if his team even tried. “We didn’t have no fight. I thought they took the game to us on both ends.”
Struggling Cleveland (30-21) never led in falling to 0-7 against the top five teams in the Western Conference, those losses coming by an average of 16.7 points. Included have been a 28-point loss to Minnesota and a 24-point defeat to Oklahoma City in which the Cavs gave up 148 points on national TV.
This one was every bit as bad as the latter two defeats, as the Cavs never had a chance, never defended, never competed and trailed by 35 points midway through the third period in losing for the 13th time in their last 20 games.
“The mindset needs to change,” Lue said. “We need to do things harder. That could be on me.”
LeBron James, who sat the entire fourth quarter along with Cleveland’s other starters, had 11 points, nine rebounds and nine assists for the Cavs, but shot just 3-for-10 from the field with the Houston defense geared to stop him.
The four-time league MVP got no help from his teammates, as Isaiah Thomas was 5-for-13 from the field and 0-for-4 on 3-pointers, making him 7-for-28 and 0-for-10 over the last two games.
Thomas was still better than Jae Crowder, who played 14 minutes without a point or rebound before finishing with eight points, one board and five fouls.
“That’s not a question for me,” James said when asked if the Cavs needed to make a move before the Thursday trade deadline. “I show up for work every day. I bust my tail every day. ... I control what I can control.”
Asked if his teammates work as hard as he does, the 33-year-old said, “I do my job. I try to do even more to (help) pick up.”
While it should be noted the Cavs were playing their second game without All-Star Kevin Love, the Rockets (38-13) didn’t have starting small forward Trevor Ariza (hamstring) or Sixth Man Award winner Eric Gordon (groin).
It didn’t matter, as prohibitive MVP favorite James Harden had 16 points, six rebounds and nine assists in 31 minutes and Chris Paul had 22, eight and 11 in 27 as Houston did whatever it wanted, whenever it wanted against Cleveland’s non-existent defense.
“It was bad from the jump,” Thomas said. “I don’t want to comment on it too much.”
“We’re not together on both ends,” he added. “It’s a lot of one-on-one on the offensive end, maybe because we don’t trust one another, and it’s the same thing on the defensive end.”
Down 26 at intermission, the Cavs trailed by 30 with 8:51 left in the third period and by 35 soon after before a 9-0 run briefly cut their deficit to — gasp! — 26.
Lue didn’t make a substitution the entire third period, which ended with the Rockets up 97-69, then sat his starters the entire fourth quarter.
“I don’t think this (Houston) team is that much better than us if we put out the effort and grit we need,” Lue said. “But it’s embarrassing to have national TV games and get blown out.”
Lue was not exempt from criticism. He got the bright idea to put Thomas, Rose, Dwyane Wade and Kyle Korver on the floor to start the second period, and it was hard to tell whether the Cavs were worse offensively or defensively in falling behind 48-25 with 8:16 left in the first half.
It didn’t get better, as the Rockets led 65-39 at the break behind 10-for-22 3-point shooting — the Cavs were 3-for-17 — and a whopping 30 points in the paint, most coming on layups and dunks.
“I don’t think we knuckled down and joined the fight,” said Lue, who said he still thinks the Cavs can be the best team in the East come playoff time. “Are we playing to win or are we playing to look good? Our mindset has to change.”
Asked why he doesn’t go back to playing point guard Jose Calderon and using the rotations he employed when Cleveland won 18 of 19 games, Lue said, “We’re struggling, but we can’t go backward right now. ... We all have to look in the mirror and be better.”
The Cavs were so bad and so non-competitive that they were down 15-4 and 2-for-11 from the field before ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy finished his first thought.
The Cavs were 0-for-7 on 3-pointers in the opening quarter, while the Rockets were 5-for-8. Cleveland finished 8-for-30 from deep, while Houston was 19-for-51.
It led James to go all the way back to his first season in Miami, when the Heat started 9-8 in 2010-11, to find a similar struggle, but he was quick to acknowledge the current situation is much different.
“It was never us not playing to our ability (in Miami),” he said. “We just had a new group.”
** Former Cavs general manager Wayne Embry was among those honored at halftime as part of the team’s Black Heritage Celebration.
Rockets 120, Cavaliers 88
HOUSTON (120): Mbah a Moute 4-9 2-2 11, Anderson 7-13 2-3 21, Capela 6-10 2-2 14, Harden 5-16 5-5 16, Paul 8-14 0-0 22, Tucker 2-7 0-0 6, Black 1-1 0-0 2, Nene 4-4 1-3 9, G.Green 6-15 1-1 17, Brown 1-4 0-0 2. Totals 44-93 13-16 120.
CLEVELAND (88): James 3-10 4-4 11, Crowder 3-6 0-0 8, Thompson 4-6 1-2 9, Thomas 5-13 2-2 12, Smith 4-12 1-2 12, J.Green 3-7 0-0 6, Osman 2-2 0-0 4, Frye 1-4 1-2 3, Rose 3-11 3-4 10, Calderon 0-0 0-0 0, Korver 1-5 0-0 3, Wade 5-11 0-0 10. Totals 34-87 12-16 88.
Houston 32 33 32 23 — 120
Cleveland 20 19 30 19 — 88
3-Point Goals—Houston 19-51 (Paul 6-9, Anderson 5-9, G.Green 4-10, Tucker 2-6, Mbah a Moute 1-3, Harden 1-11, Brown 0-3), Cleveland 8-30 (Smith 3-9, Crowder 2-3, James 1-2, Korver 1-4, Rose 1-4, J.Green 0-1, Wade 0-1, Frye 0-2, Thomas 0-4). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Houston 53 (Capela, Tucker 9), Cleveland 47 (James 9). Assists—Houston 28 (Paul 11), Cleveland 22 (James 9). Total Fouls—Houston 19, Cleveland 16. A—20,562 (20,562).
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