CLEVELAND — The bad news for the Cavaliers is they lost for the fifth straight time and eighth time in their last nine games.
The good news, for all those who worry about Ping-Pong balls in the hopper, is they improved their draft standing.
That about sums up Cleveland’s 87-75 loss to the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday at Quicken Loans Arena, where Samardo Samuels was the only Cavs player to make at least half his shots on a putrid 34.5 percent shooting night.
“This league is about ups and downs,” said Cleveland point guard Kyrie Irving, who had 22 points, nine rebounds, six assists and five turnovers. “We’re on a down right now. We’re just trying to get out of it.”
With the loss, the Cavs fell to 17-31 and into last place in the Central Division, percentage points behind the 18-32 Pistons, who won two straight on the road for just the second time this season.
Cleveland would now pick ahead of Detroit if the lottery went according to form and the draft were held today, the Cavs choosing seventh and the Pistons eighth. If Sacramento won at home against San Antonio late Wednesday, that choice would go up to six.
None of that, of course, is any consolation to the current players, including an NBA Development League-like lineup of Donald Sloan, Manny Harris, Samuels, Luke Walton and Omri Casspi to start the second and fourth periods.
Not that the starters, outside of Irving, who was 9-for-19 from the field, were a whole lot better on this night.
Antawn Jamison, who had 12 of his 17 points in a 10-shot third period, was 7-for-21 from the field, while fellow starting forward Alonzo Gee was 1-for-6 for three points in 35 minutes.
Toss in Tristan Thompson’s 3-for-12, Harris’ 3-for-10 and Casspi’s 2-for-7, plus the fact Irving had just two points over the middle two quarters, and Cleveland’s offense was downright offensive.
“I thought we played hard,” coach Byron Scott said after losing on his 51st birthday. “We just couldn’t make a shot.”
Irving, who had 12 points, four rebounds and three assists in the first period, should have had a dozen assists on the night, but Jamison couldn’t make wide-open baseline jumpers and Thompson couldn’t finish near the basket.
On one key fourth-quarter possession, Gee, Thompson and Jamison all missed what were basically layups or dunks, a perfect synopsis of a night where the Cavs’ quarter scoring totals dropped from 23 to 21 to 17 to 14.
“There was an unbelievable number of misses in the paint,” Scott said. “If you’re not converting those, it’s going to be hard.”
Shooting virtually every time he touched the ball, Jamison had seven points in the first 8½ minutes of the third period, but the rest of his teammates had none. As a result, the Cavs were down 15, but closed the quarter on an 8-0 run to make it 68-61 heading into the fourth.
Cleveland got as close as 76-71 on an Irving jumper with 4:08 to play, but fellow rookie Brandon Knight (16 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists) hit a 3-pointer to beat the shot clock and the Pistons started pulling away.
The key for Detroit was 32-year-old small forward Tayshaun Prince, who found the fountain of youth and tied a season high with 29 points while adding eight boards and three assists.
“Prince looked like he did five, six years ago,” Scott said. “Tayshaun played extremely well. He really won the game for them.”
The Cavs, who have scored 75, 85, 83 and 80 points over their last four games, had no one to turn to other than the 20-year-old Irving, and he couldn’t do it alone as Cleveland matched its season low in scoring.
“You just keep searching,” Scott said. “That’s all you can do.”
The fact that search will continue with Ramon Sessions playing for the Los Angeles Lakers and Anderson Varejao (fractured wrist) and Daniel Gibson (torn tendon in ankle) sidelined by injury means things could get worse before they get better.
“We’ve been through worse,” Scott said. “The only thing we have to do is continue to stay together as a team and keep encouraging each other and keep fighting. That’s all you can do.
“I don’t see these guys quitting,” he added. “We’re going to keep playing. We’re going to keep fighting. That’s all we know.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.