CLEVELAND — There was nothing wrong with the Cavaliers that solid defense and a good dose of the Milwaukee Bucks couldn’t cure.
A lot of players made positive contributions Friday night as Cleveland ended a two-game losing streak at Quicken Loans Arena by rolling to a 93-78 victory over far and away the worst team in the NBA.
“It definitely felt good,” All-Star starter Kyrie Irving said. “We competed for the full 48 minutes. We started off a little slowly, but defensively we picked it up.”
The Cavs (16-27) didn’t get monster numbers from any individual, but they didn’t need that against the 8-34 Bucks, who have dropped 10 of their last 11 games and have six less wins than Utah, the second-worst team in the league.
Anderson Varejao led Cleveland with 16 points, Tristan Thompson had 14 points and 10 rebounds, Dion Waiters had 13 points, eight boards and three assists, Irving had 10 points, 10 assists and no turnovers, Jarrett Jack had 10 points and Tyler Zeller finished with eight points, nine rebounds and three blocks.
“I’ll take this every game,” Cavs coach Mike Brown said after a rare easy victory.
Even No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett, who had not played in the last five games, finally got to see action with Cleveland up 24 and 5:14 to go. He promptly missed four shots, including a dunk, but just about everything else was a positive for the Cavs.
“Good performance by our team, especially coming off two losses,” Brown said. “I thought our guys stepped up.”
Listing everything wrong with the Bucks would take longer than typing — or pronouncing — the name of starting shooting guard Giannis Antetokounmpo.
With an awful team regardless, coach Larry Drew has committed to playing younger players, which has relegated veterans like Caron Butler and O.J. Mayo to role players off the bench.
Of course, the last time Milwaukee visited The Q, it was without numerous key players and nearly stunned the Cavs, who pulled out a 114-111 overtime victory thanks to 39 points from Irving.
No such individual heroics were needed this time, as Khris Middleton (13) and Antetokounmpo (10) were the only Bucks to score more than nine points.
“Everybody’s buying into Coach Brown’s message,” Irving said. “Defense is going to win us games.”
The Bucks shot just .405 from the field (30-for-74) for the game and had 32 points over the middle two quarters.
“It was great,” Brown said of his team’s approach. “Just listening to our guys talk on the bench … they were saying the right things: Keep playing defense; keep getting stops.”
It looked for a brief moment like this might finally be the night the Cavs seized control of a game early and never let off the gas, but it took them until the second half to take over for good.
Cleveland responded to an early Brown timeout with a 17-0 run to go up 23-11, but then the second unit entered the game and gave it right back, as Milwaukee used a 12-1 spurt to get within 24-23 after the first period.
The Cavs bench redeemed itself a bit in the second quarter. Zeller, who watched Henry Sims enter the game before him, blocked a dunk attempt by Larry Sanders, while Earl Clark hit his first 3-pointer since Jan. 12 and added a resounding slam as Cleveland took a nine-point lead at halftime.
The Bucks never seriously threatened in the second half as the Cavs did a nice job of staying focused. Cleveland’s next task is to duplicate the effort Sunday at home against Phoenix.
“We have to do a better job of competing every night,” Irving said. “We competed tonight.
“Put this one in the books,” he added. “We competed. We got the win. Now it’s time to move on.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @RickNoland.