Cleveland (7-12) at Detroit (6-14)

By JEFF BARTL, STATS Writer Sunday, Dec 5, 2010 Tipoff: 6:00 pm EST Sun Dec 5, 2010

The Cleveland Cavaliers and Detroit Pistons weren’t expected to compete with the top teams in the Eastern Conference this season, but it may be safe to say neither team expected to struggle this much.

Cleveland visits Detroit on Sunday night in a matchup of Central Division rivals mired in demoralizing losing streaks.

The Cavaliers (7-12) have lost three straight by a combined 81 points.They trailed by as many as 40 in Saturday’s 129-95 defeat in Minnesota. It was the Cavaliers’ worst loss since Nov. 28, 2007 - a 109-74 loss to Detroit.

The most recent loss followed a 28-point drubbing at the hands of LeBron James(notes) and Miami on Thursday, which came two nights after and a 19-point loss to Boston.

Antawn Jamison(notes), who scored 17 points Saturday, said Cleveland needs to figure out its problems fast before the season slips away.

“I think it’s time to look in the mirror and just say we’re playing bad basketball,” Jamison said. “It’s not who we’re playing, it’s us. And it’s going to get out of hand if we don’t find a way to solve the problem and start playing the right way.”

Coach Byron Scott said he hasn’t seen much energy from the Cavaliers, who have lost seven of nine and have scored fewer than 100 points in all but six games this season.

“(Lack of) effort, execution, determination, pride, heart, everything,” Scott said.

Cleveland played without starters J.J. Hickson(notes) and Joey Graham(notes) against the Timberwolves due to flu-like symptoms, and their status is unclear for Sunday. Minnesota’s starting five outscored Cleveland’s 85-34, despite the fact that the Timberwolves’ starters sat out the entire fourth quarter.

The Cavaliers’ against the Pistons may provide cause for hope. Cleveland has beaten Detroit seven straight times, although the teams have yet to face each other this season.

The Pistons (6-14) have lost four straight and eight of 10, including a 104-91 loss Friday to virus-ridden and short-handed Orlando. Detroit has been outscored in the second half of each of its last six losses, allowing the opposition to break open tight games.

Tayshaun Prince(notes), who scored 30 points against the Magic, said the Pistons’ offense hasn’t been the issue.

“It’s pretty much the same way - we’re there, the fourth quarter comes and when teams start to knuckle down and execute, that’s when your defense has to be at its best,” Prince said. “Obviously, our defense hasn’t been at its best at that time. I think we’re getting better offensively down the stretch, but defensively we have to do a better job.”

That doesn’t mean some of the Pistons aren’t struggling to score. Richard Hamilton(notes) is averaging 12.7 points - well below his career average of 17.8 - and Ben Gordon(notes) hasn’t scored more than 11 since Nov. 15. Gordon’s career average is 17.7, but he has scored 10 points or fewer in each of his last five games against Cleveland.

“There’s no question, we need one of them to step up,” coach John Kuester said. “More importantly, though, we’ve got to do things as a team defensively. It’s always good to have somebody with a hot hand we can ride.”

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