USA TODAY US Edition

Cavs struggling to stay consistent each night

- Jeff Zillgitt @JeffZillgi­tt USA TODAY Sports

Tyronn Lue was not a happy coach during or after the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 113-99 loss to the Washington Wizards on Sunday.

He pulled four starters — Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith — when a nine-point halftime deficit swelled to an 80-61 Wizards lead in the first five minutes of the third quarter.

“The starters didn’t give the effort we wanted, we needed,” Lue said.

With LeBron James sitting out to rest, Lue was asked if this was a chance for other players to step up You would .“think so,” Lue said.

That didn’t happen as the Cavs lost their second consecutiv­e game.

Smith was grim. “If you lose a game like the other night to a team like Toronto and come out here and play the way we did and you had a lack of energy, maybe we shouldn’t be in this position,” Smith said.

How much concern should there be for the Cavs, who made a coaching change with a 30-11 record? Since replacing David Blatt with Lue, the Cavaliers are 11-6, a .647 winning percentage that is less than Blatt’s .731 when he was fired, and they are not appreciabl­y better since the change.

They are not any better defensivel­y, and that was the problem in Friday’s loss, a game in which Toronto Raptors All- Star Kyle Lowry scored a career-high 43 points.

Another All- Star point guard gave Cleveland problems Sunday. John Wall, trying to push the Wizards into a playoff spot, had 21 points, 13 assists and seven rebounds and didn’t play in the fourth quarter.

In the 17 games with Lue as coach, the Cavaliers have allowed 105 points per 100 possession­s. Even when Cleveland scores, it’s tough to win with that defense.

How much concern is there? It depends on who you ask.

“I feel confident about what we have going on,” Lue said.

James, who missed his second game of the season and probably will sit more games to rest the remainder of the season, didn’t meet with reporters but in a quick exchange with USA TODAY Sports he said the Cavs are fine.

Smith, however, didn’t down- play his concern.

“If we’re serious about who we’re supposed to be, then we can’t do this,” he said.

The Cavs are a difficult team to critique. They are considered the favorites to win the Eastern Conference and play in the Finals. Their regular season has little meaning, and there isn’t the same motivation every game since they know it’s all about winning a championsh­ip.

There should be motivation for the Cavs to improve in the final six weeks of the regular season so they hit the playoffs ready to push for that championsh­ip. There’s still time for that, too.

Teams don’t like to rely on “flipping the switch” to play their best basketball. But it happens that way sometimes. It was just Feb. 20 that the Cavaliers beat the Oklahoma City Thunder. When the Cavs want to be, they are an excellent team.

Excellent enough to win a title? The way they’ve played this season — even with a 41-17 record — doesn’t suggest they’re capable of that. But then, only one team has a résumé that suggests it’s going to win the title.

It seems like all the other playoff teams are playing for second place.

 ?? TOMMY GILLIGAN, USA TODAY SPORTS ?? LeBron James, center, sat out Sunday’s blowout loss to the Wizards. It was the Cavs’ second consecutiv­e loss, after the Raptors clipped the Cavs 99-97 on Friday.
TOMMY GILLIGAN, USA TODAY SPORTS LeBron James, center, sat out Sunday’s blowout loss to the Wizards. It was the Cavs’ second consecutiv­e loss, after the Raptors clipped the Cavs 99-97 on Friday.

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