CLEVELAND — The Cavaliers need to learn how to close, especially on the road.
Cleveland brought a 3-11 record into its game against Phoenix on Tuesday night at Quicken Loans Arena, but that mark could have been much better.
The Cavs held double-figure leads in six of their 11 defeats, including a whopping 26-point advantage in Phoenix on Nov. 9. Cleveland also led by 12 in Milwaukee, by 10 in Oklahoma City, by 12 in Orlando, by 13 in Miami and by 10 in Memphis.
“I think our guys see we’re right there,” coach Byron Scott said. “We’re giving ourselves an opportunity every night to win a basketball game.”
All six of the blown leads occurred on the road, including three straight on the Cavs’ just-completed trip. Cleveland also led heading into the fourth quarter of those games in Orlando, Miami and Memphis despite playing without star point guard Kyrie Irving (fractured left index finger).
“It would have been more impressive if we had got two wins out of the three,” Scott said. “That’s how I look at it.”
The Cavs couldn’t close out LeBron James and the Heat despite being up by seven points with less than 2 minutes to go, then got outscored 22-9 by Memphis in the fourth quarter.
“I don’t know if it’s being tight, nerves, whatever,” Scott said.
The good news for the Cavs is they have played well enough away from home to get up big on numerous occasions. The bad news is they have just one victory in 10 road games, that coming against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Irving’s absence certainly didn’t help the Cavs in their three most recent road losses, but the inability to hold onto a lead had surfaced before the point guard went down.
In fact, toss in a nine-point advantage in a home loss to Dallas and Cleveland held significant leads in seven of its 11 defeats to open the season.
It’s unrealistic to think the Cavs should have won all those games and entered Tuesday with a 10-4 record, but they have certainly played better — for most of the game, anyway — than their record indicates.
“It tells us we’re right there,” Scott said. “We’re close. We’re doing a lot of good things.”
Scott did not mince words when asked about the play of center Anderson Varejao, who began the night averaging a career-best 14.1 points, a league-high 14.7 rebounds and 3.2 assists.
“To me, right now he’s the best center in the NBA,” the coach said.
Varejao entered Tuesday having posted five straight double-doubles, which tied the longest streak of his career. He had grabbed at least 15 rebounds nine times in the 13 games he had played and led the league in defensive boards (8.9) and offensive boards (5.8). On top of all that, he was shooting .510 from the field and .778 at the line.
“He’s the first guy I’ve ever had to tell to shoot more,” Scott said. “I told him, ‘You play so hard, you deserve to take shots.’”
Good and bad
Rookie shooting guard Dion Waters was 24-for-50 from the field through four games. In his last 10 games prior to Tuesday, he was 52-for-153 (.340).
Waiters began the night third in the league in scoring among rookies at 14.9. Portland point guard Damian Lillard led at 19.1, followed by New Orleans big man Anthony Davis at 16.0. Davis had appeared in just six games, however, so he would not qualify among the official league leaders.
Cleveland’s home game vs. Chicago on Dec. 5 will no longer be shown nationally by ESPN and has been added to the Fox Sports Ohio schedule. Tipoff will remain at 8 p.m. A Feb. 20 home game against New Orleans has been picked up by ESPN but will also still be shown on Fox Sports Ohio. Tipoff is 8 p.m.
Omri Casspi began the night tied for fifth in the league in 3-point percentage at .500 (10-for-20).
Irving is no longer listed among the league leaders because he hasn’t appeared in enough games. If he had, his 22.9 scoring average would rank sixth.
In four games as the starting point guard prior to Tuesday, Jeremy Pargo had averaged 17.0 points and 3.8 assists in 33.3 minutes. He had gone 8-for-25 from the field over his last two games.
With the first of his two 3-pointers against Memphis, Daniel Gibson moved past Danny Ferry and into fourth place in club history with 545 triples.
The Cavs entered Tuesday last in the league in field goal percentage defense (.490).
Donald Sloan, who began the season as Cleveland’s backup point guard, entered Tuesday having not played in the last six games, including the last four with Irving sidelined.
The Cavs had played an NBA-low four home games prior to Tuesday and were 2-2 at The Q. Their 10 road games led the league.
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.