CLEVELAND — The Cavaliers won the “Battle for the Bottom” Sunday night at Quicken Loans Arena.
And that’s because the equally lowly Chicago Bulls won the game 112-92.
The Cavs, Bulls and Phoenix Suns entered Sunday tied for the worst record in the league at 8-25. Cleveland, by virtue of getting outscored 44-22 over the first 17 minutes of the second half, now sits alone at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, though Phoenix kept pace in the West by losing to Brooklyn.
“The second half was an onslaught,” Cavs center Larry Nance Jr. said of being outscored 58-33 after intermission.
“There’s very few aspects of defense that we’re good at,” he added after Cleveland enhanced its NBA-worst field goal percentage allowed by letting Chicago shoot .551 from the floor. “The league knows that.”
Doubly troubling in the big picture, finishing with the worst record in the league is no longer important when it comes to winning the draft lottery, as the three worst teams all will have a 14 percent chance of getting the No. 1 pick. The fourth- through eighth-worst teams will have chances of 12.5, 10.5, 9.0, 7.0 and 6.0, with that sliding scale finishing at 0.5 percent for the 14th and last non-playoff team.
Right now, there’s little doubt the Cavs will remain in the bottom tier throughout the season, but coach Larry Drew still expects his team to play hard and with intelligence.
“It was a disappointing loss, more so that we didn’t play with more energy,” he said. “That was the thing that hit home the most.
“Every night we step on the floor, we should play inspired. There’s no reason; there’s no excuse.”
Not very good under ideal circumstances, Cleveland and Chicago also were without a bunch of players.
The Cavs were minus Kevin Love (toe), Tristan Thompson (foot), John Henson (wrist), Rodney Hood (sore Achilles) and J.R. Smith (not with team) — David Nwaba sprained his left ankle, again, in the fourth period — and the Bulls were without Zach Levine (ankle), Bobby Portis (ankle) and Denzel Valentine (ankle).
All that left Cleveland with a starting lineup of Collin Sexton, Alec Burks, Nance, Cedi Osman and two-way G League player Jaron Blossomgame, while Chicago countered with less than household names in Ryan Arcidiacono (12 points, four rebounds, eight assists, three steals), Kris Dunn (17 points, eight rebounds, seven assists), Wendell Carter Jr., Lauri Markkanen (31 points) and Justin Holiday (15 points).
“Guys have career nights on us,” Nance said after Markkanen went 11-for-18 from the field. “That’s something we have to take personally. That was the message passed around the locker room. We’ve got to man up.”
Nance had 20 points and six boards for the Cavs and Osman and Jordan Clarkson had 17 points apiece, but they didn’t get nearly enough help.
Blossomgame was scoreless in 22 minutes in his second career start, most of Burks’ 12 points came outside of the offense and Sexton was particularly bad, finishing 3-for-16 from the field while shooting less than 50 percent for the sixth straight game. The 19-year-old is 14-for-49 (.286) over his last three games and 28-for-86 (.326) over his last six.
“We have to do a better job of sharing the ball,” Drew said after his team finished with a season-low 11 assists. “When our assist totals are down, it tells me we’re playing too much one-on-one.”
Up five at halftime, the Cavs were outscored 30-15 in a dreadful third period that saw them go 6-for-17 from the field and commit six of their 12 turnovers. Markkanen had 14 points in the quarter — and 29 in the game at that point — as Chicago took an 84-74 lead.
The fourth period didn’t get any better for Cleveland, whose 33 points in the second half were a season low.
“The second half we played really bad,” Osman said. “We can’t let that happen again. We have to go out and play the way we did in the first half.”
Neither team led by more than seven points in the first half, which featured 15 lead changes, three ties and ended with the Cavs up 59-54.
It was all downhill from there for the Battle for the Bottom-winning Cavs.
“We’re not using our losses as lessons, and it’s tough to keep doing so,” Nance said. “At the beginning of the season, it’s easy to go, ‘All right, we lost that game. Here’s what went wrong and now we have to fix it.’ We’re kind of at the point where it’s like, ‘Well, what was it this time?’”