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It’s not been a banner year for the four-time defending Eastern Conference champions, but at least the Cavaliers are better than the Phoenix Suns.
A lot better.
At least, they sure are if you base it on the 111-98 hammer job Tuesday in front of a modest crowd at Quicken Loans Arena.
So make that two teams the Cavs know they can beat — the Suns, and New York Knicks. All that matters is the Cavs don’t prove to be better than the Chicago Bulls, too.
After all, this season is all about draft lottery odds, and with the three-worst records having the same shot at the No. 1 pick, the Cavs (13-46) are still in good position. They can maybe beat the Suns (11-49) and Knicks (11-47) in that all-important lottery game in May as well.
They just need to be careful, as the Cavs are but a mere 1.5 games behind the Bulls (14-44) for the fourth-worst league record. That’s dangerously close. But fear not, oh tanking faithful. Not every opponent is as G-League-ish as Phoenix.
In fact, according to Tankathon.com, the Cavs’ final 23 games come against teams with a winning percentage of .524. That means the Cavs’ have the sixth most-difficult schedule in the league to finish the season. The Bulls are 16th.
Basically, all the Cavs need to do is stay the course.
As for the actual Lottery Bowl of a game, it was actually sort of fun. Power forward Kevin Love gave his best performance since early October, when he was sidelined with a toe injury (and surgery) after just four games.
On Tuesday, Love finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds in just 22 minutes. Yes, he is still on a minutes restriction. Yes, he is still the Cavs’ best player anyway.
This after a slow start in which Love committed three turnovers in the first quarter. He got it together eventually, though, turning over the ball just once more all game.
“I looked like I hadn’t played many games lately and looked like I had just come off break,” he said. “That will go away. A couple shots were pretty short, getting my legs underneath me.
“But overall I felt pretty good and just kind of progress in these minutes.”
Love has missed 50 games in all. The Cavs intend to steadily increase his minutes and Love said he intends to play in every game.
He was not alone on this night, as the Cavs shared the ball and showed what it can do for a team. They finished with 34 assists, one shy of their season-high. Matthew Dellavedova came off the bench to lead the way with 11.
Cedi Osman led the Cavs with 19 points, Jordan Clarkson scored 15 and young center Ante Zizic impressed with 15 points and 12 boards. Also, Larry Nance Jr. continued his recent string of energetic play and contributed 14 points.
Suns guard Devin Booker scored a game-high 30 — but it wasn’t nearly enough to keep the Suns from setting a new franchise record with their 16th straight defeat.
This was actually a close game for the first half and early into the third, when the Suns held a 72-71 lead. Then the Cavs ripped off 12 straight points and eventually built the lead to 17.
They were never challenged after that.