When the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Memphis Grizzlies in late November, they improved to 7-9 and were doing a better job than nearly anyone expected of being competitive without LeBron James(notes).
Even with a roster decimated by injuries, it’s hard to believe what’s happened since.
The Cavaliers have dropped 32 of 33 since the Grizzlies’ visit and can tie the NBA’s single-season record for the longest losing streak at 23 on Friday night in Memphis.
Cleveland (8-41) pulled out what coach Byron Scott called a “gutsy” victory against the Grizzlies on Nov. 27, winning 92-86 behind 25 points and 12 assists from Mo Williams(notes) and 11 rebounds from Anderson Varejao(notes).
It seemed difficult to believe the Cavaliers were in the Eastern Conference’s No. 8 slot even after 16 games, but they’ve gone from being mild overachievers to a team poised to break NBA records for futility.
Cleveland lost its 22nd consecutive game Wednesday night against Indiana, leading late in the fourth quarter before falling 117-112.
“It hurts,” Scott said. “When you lose games it hurts, especially when you give yourself an opportunity to win, it hurts that much more. We had an opportunity.”
A loss to Memphis (26-24) would tie the Cavaliers with the 1995-96 expansion Vancouver Grizzlies and 1997-98 Denver Nuggets for the longest single-season rut in NBA history.
Coach Lionel Hollins’ club will hardly be seeing the same Cleveland team it lost to in November. Williams hasn’t played since Jan. 15 because of a hip injury, Daniel Gibson(notes) has missed 10 games with various injuries and Varejao is out for the season with a torn ankle tendon.
“We have got to get a win,” said guard Anthony Parker(notes), one of just three players currently in the rotation who was with the Cavs last season. “In February, the schedule kind of turns in our favor to some degree. We have a lot of home games and we have got to find a way to get it done.”
The Cavaliers play nine of their next 10 at Quicken Loans Arena after visiting FedEx Forum, but first they’ll try to snap their team-record 24-game road losing streak.
They’re certainly not catching the Grizzlies at a very good time. Memphis has won seven of eight to pull within a half game of Portland for the West’s eighth seed, and it’ll be looking for a season-high fifth straight victory Friday.
The fourth was never in doubt. The Grizzlies didn’t suffer a letdown after an impressive victory against Orlando on Monday, leading host Minnesota by eight at halftime and 22 after three quarters in cruising to a 102-84 win Wednesday.
“I know that there are a lot of people that would say ‘they beat Orlando, but they won’t be able to back it up and beat Minnesota,’” Hollins said. “So we are satisfied that we were able to back it up. We have long-term goals, but we need to be able to achieve things in the short term to achieve those goals.”
The Grizzlies have done a great job taking advantage of their opponents’ miscues during the winning streak. They’ve forced 18.3 turnovers per game and converted those into an average of 22.8 points.
Zach Randolph(notes), held to 13 points in the first meeting with Cleveland, has been the key to Memphis’ rise over the past month. Since Dec. 29, he’s averaged 23.1 points and 14.3 rebounds - third in the league.