CLEVELAND — What was nearly a comeback for the ages ended up being just another bad loss for the Cavaliers.
Down 27 points midway through the third period, Cleveland got within four with 2:56 left Wednesday night, but still fell 98-91 to the Washington Wizards at Quicken Loans Arena.
“We don’t play hard enough. Point blank,” veteran guard Jarrett Jack said. “There’s no remedy for (lack of) effort. That’s the one thing you control.
“Nobody should have to ask anybody to play hard. At the end of the day, we’re supposed to love this. This is our job.”
A week earlier, the Cavs had a players-only meeting after losing by 29 points in Minneapolis. They promptly came back Friday and lost to Charlotte at The Q.
If not for Bradley Beal losing control of the ball while headed in for a slam dunk late in regulation Saturday in Washington, where the Cavs won in overtime, Cleveland (4-8) would be on a five-game losing streak right now.
“If we don’t play hard, we’re going to get our behinds kicked,” Cavs coach Mike Brown said. “We’re not good enough to go through the motions.”
That’s exactly what the Cavs did for 2½ quarters against Washington (4-7), which began the evening with a 1-5 road record and had played the previous night.
The Cavs fell behind 25-11 at the outset, trailed by 20 late in the second period and were down 73-46 with 6:37 to go in the third quarter.
That’s when a desperate Brown went to a lineup of Jack, Matthew Dellavedova, Dion Waiters, Henry Sims and Anderson Varejao, and that group quickly got the Cavs back within 18.
In the fourth, it was a lineup of Dellavedova, Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Earl Clark and Varejao that nearly completed the job, largely because Irving, whose body language and defense were terrible most of the night, finally woke up.
Irving, who had 13 straight Cleveland points in the fourth period and 18 of the team’s last 20, went on his own personal 11-0 run to pull the Cavs within 86-82 with 2:56 left, but Brown’s club never got to the top of the mountain.
“Anybody could see the difference between the first 2½ quarters and the last 18 minutes,” said Brown, who elected to start Alonzo Gee (0 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist) at shooting guard in the second half. “You don’t have to be a basketball coach, player, anything to see that.
“We didn’t do anything different defensively. We just played harder.”
The Cavs were still within 90-86 after Irving fed Varejao for a layup with 1:40 to go. It looked like they were going to get closer when Beal missed a jumper, but Cleveland’s Clark was called for a foul in the battle for the rebound and Washington’s Marcin Gortat hit two free throws with 1:16 remaining.
Waiters and Washington’s Martell Webster exchanged traveling violations before Clark badly missed a 3-pointer. Beal hit two free throws with 32.8 seconds left to make it an eight-point game and send 16,189 unhappy fans toward the exits.
“We get paid to play out there,” said Irving, who finished with 28 points and six assists in 30 minutes. “We’ve got some elite players and we’ve got to pick each other up. We’re all in the fox hole. We’ve got to fight.”
Varejao and Jack both had 14 points for the Cavs, with Varejao also grabbing 11 rebounds. In the first half, those two players were 11-for-13 from the field, but the rest of the team was 4-for-21.
Cleveland starters not named Irving finished the night with a combined seven points on 2-for-15 shooting, with shooting guard C.J. Miles leaving the game for good with 9:28 left in the first quarter due to a strained right calf.
Center Andrew Bynum did virtually nothing in his 13 minutes, finishing with two points and one rebound. Power forward Tristan Thompson wasn’t any better, putting up two points and four boards in 24 minutes while going 0-for-5 from the field. Small forward Clark had eight rebounds, but just three points on 1-for-6 shooting.
Waiters had 11 points off the bench, but he was 2-for-13 from the field and committed three turnovers.
“I’ve got to find five guys who give (effort) to me,” Brown said. “It’s as simple as that.”
Dellavedova did that, battling incredibly hard on the defensive end while finishing with nine points and four rebounds, but the Cavs dug themselves too big of a hole to climb out of.
“We didn’t compete,” Brown said. “We had one guy who competed the entire time he was on the floor — Matthew Dellavedova.”
Beal led the Wizards with 26 points, seven rebounds, eight assists and six turnovers, while power forward Nene had 24 points, eight boards and six assists.
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @RickNoland.