INDEPENDENCE — The Cavaliers play their final game of the season Wednesday night against the Brooklyn Nets at Quicken Loans Arena. Some would argue their season ended two games ago.
After beating Detroit in impressive fashion last Wednesday but getting eliminated from the playoffs later that night when Atlanta beat Boston, the deflated Cavs (32-49) lost Thursday in Milwaukee and came back home and lost to the Celtics on Saturday.
The Bucks had an NBA-worst 14 victories going into the game, but that didn’t prevent them from beating Cleveland for the second time this season. The Celtics, who had just eight healthy players in uniform, were without Rajon Rondo, Jared Sullinger, Kris Humphries and Gerald Wallace, but led by 31 points after the third period and by 33 early in the fourth.
“It has a little bit of a hangover, especially when it gets down close to the end of the season,” guard Kyrie Irving said Monday when asked about being eliminated from playoff contention. “I know it did for me, just being disappointed and not being able to get a taste of the playoffs in my third year.
“It’s more or less a pride thing. We’re professionals. We’ve just got to pick ourselves up and play this last game as hard as we can and finish the season strong like we preached.”
Not much pride was on display in Cleveland’s most recent losses.
Irving had just four points and one assist through three quarters of the Milwaukee game and finished the night 4-for-12 from the field. Against Boston, he was an even-worse 3-for-15, making him 7-for-27 from the floor (.259) over the last two games.
After the Celtics game, Irving left the locker room without speaking to reporters for what is believed to be the first time this season. Backcourt partner Dion Waiters, who went 6-for-15 from the field against Boston, also left without granting interviews, as did a number of other players.
“It’s disappointing, just based on our (lack of) effort,” Irving said after practice at Cleveland Clinic Courts. “Our fans definitely don’t deserve that, especially at the end of the season.
“We’ve preached it and said we wanted to finish strong, but teams are just getting the best of us. Our effort just wasn’t there. It’s disappointing and we have to be disappointed in ourselves.”
Irving can sign a contract extension this summer — the Cavs will likely offer him a maximum deal of five additional years at approximately $80 million — and has repeatedly said he likes Cleveland and his teammates.
The 22-year-old, who has yet to say he will sign an extension, declined to answer Monday when asked what the team needed to add, saying he wanted to concentrate on the Brooklyn game and not think about that until after the season.
“This is the last game of the season for all of us, one last time we can go out there, last hurrah for the fans and, more importantly, for ourselves,” he said.
For the season, Irving is averaging 20.9 points, 3.7 rebounds and 6.1 assists in 70 games. He’s shooting .429 from the field, .360 on 3-pointers and .860 at the line. His assist average and games played are career highs — Irving has missed 49 games in three seasons — and the field goal and 3-point percentages are career lows.
The Cavs went 21-45 in Irving’s lockout-shortened rookie season and 24-58 in 2012-13. Cleveland has 32 wins going into its finale — it needs to win to avoid a 50-loss season — but the stated goal of the organization was to make the playoffs.
Asked if he thought the Cavs could be a consistent winner with their current nucleus, coach Mike Brown said, “I believe so. Yes, I do. Discount the last couple of games, for a pretty long stretch we showed we’re capable of playing some pretty good basketball, even when we’re not fully healthy. That was the encouraging part.”
“I feel like we were making strides in the right direction and had a little bit of a lapse,” he said. “That happens with young teams. (There were) definitely a lot of positives from the season, which I’m happy about. We’re finishing the season all as one group and close-knit, which I’m proud of.”
Brown benched Irving, Waiters and Spencer Hawes for the final quarter of the Boston game and the Cavs outscored the Celtics 41-22, but he’s not expected to make any lineup changes for the finale.
Luol Deng will miss the Brooklyn game with a sore back — he will be an unrestricted free agent and has likely played his last game for Cleveland — so Alonzo Gee will probably start again at small forward. Brown was uncertain if Anthony Bennett (knee) or C.J. Miles (ankle) would play against the Nets.
Irving, who last year left the court and didn’t take part in a postgame ceremony where Cleveland players gave their jerseys and shoes to selected ticket-holders on Fan Appreciation Night, is hoping to end the season with a bang.
“We get to wake up every single morning and play the game that we love for a couple more times in these next (two) days,” he said. “We’ve just got to appreciate it and play this next game against the Brooklyn Nets as hard as we can.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like him on Facebook and follow him @RickNoland on Twitter.