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CLEVELAND — How do you snap a four-game losing streak and still leave the game feeling lousy?
Fear not, fans of the Cleveland Cavaliers, your favorite team will find a way.
That’s the story behind the Cavs’ 104-103 squeaker of a win over the sad-sack Orlando Magic on Thursday at Quicken Loans Arena.
How good were the Cavs?
They moved the basketball, cut to the basket, seamlessly buried shots and appeared to enjoy playing the game again in building a 20-point halftime lead.
How bad were the Cavs?
They started standing around, launching lazy jumpers and waiting for someone else to start playing the right way. And that was just the offense in their nightmare of a second half.
Defensively, well, the Cavs decided the best course of action was merely to hope one the league’s most incompetent teams would miss. The Magic finally did, as Elfrid Payton’s layup rolled off the rim with about two seconds remaining.
Or at least, that’s what the Cavs are calling it.
“A win is a win, and we needed a win to get out of that slide,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. “But …”
Lue continued on, but didn’t really offer any answers.
For instance, when asked how the Cavs could nearly blow all of a 23-point lead, at home, to such a lowly opponent, Lue responded with this:
“I don’t know.”
Later, he was asked if he was upset with the team.
“I can’t remember,” he said.
Maybe what he really meant was he prefers to forget. Anymore, even when the Cavs win, it feels like a trip to basketball purgatory.
If you can dig deep enough and pull out a bright side, it’s that the Cavs do seem to realize they can’t keep collapsing in the second half.
“We’re trying to figure out how we can put two good halves together,” Cavs star LeBron James said. “We’ve got to keep pushing, keep watching film and be better.”
Isaiah Thomas led the Cavs with a season-high 21 points, looking a little more fluid and a little more comfortable — at least in the first two quarters.
James added 16 points in a very average overall night — in which he also committed six turnovers and went just 2-of-8 on free throws in what turned into a nail-biter.
“Man I was garbage,” he tweeted following his interview session with reporters.
If you turned this game off at halftime, then later saw James’ tweet, you’re probably wondering what the heck happened. From the sounds of things, again, the Cavs only sort of know.
“It shifted. We stopped moving the basketball, stopped moving bodies, took some bad shots and had some turnovers,” Lue said.
That has been the unfortunate rally cry of these Cavs lately, a bad habit that may be resulting in some doubt for a team that once strongly believed.
How do they turn it around and start becoming something closer to the team they say they are?
Hopefully, that is something Lue and the Cavs do remember.
Kevin Love added 12 points and 11 rebounds, but went just 3-of-10 from the floor. Also, Derrick Rose returned from an ankle injury, playing his first game since Nov. 7 and finishing with nine points off the bench.
Payton led the Magic (13-32) with 19 points, and Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier added 17 apiece.
“I’m disappointed for the guys,” Magic coach Frank Vogel said. “I love the way they fought in the second half and I thought they deserved a victory.”
Surely, he was not alone.
The Cavs won, and that’s all that will show and matter in the standings. But they still have some work to do before they can feel good.
“Right now, we’re in Strugglesville,” James said.