The Cleveland Cavaliers won't return from a seven-game road trip with a winning record, but they feel strides have been made.
The Cavaliers close the trip looking for a third victory when they visit the Charlotte Bobcats on Monday afternoon.
Cleveland is 2-4 on its longest road trip of the season, having defeated Minnesota and Phoenix while showing some positive signs in competitive losses to Utah and the Los Angeles Lakers.
After falling behind by 19 points Friday at Staples Center, Cleveland (5-6) pulled within three in the fourth quarter. In the end, though, it had no answer for Kobe Bryant, who finished with 42 points in the Lakers' 97-92 win.
"It shows a lot about the character of our team," forward Omri Casspi said of his team's comeback attempt. "We didn't let it get out of hand. We just wanted to keep our composure, keep playing defense and share the ball on offense, and we knew good things would happen for us. Our guys kept fighting, but in the last four minutes, they had a big run."
The Cavaliers' competitiveness has largely been due to Kyrie Irving. The rookie has scored at least 20 points in four straight games while shooting 54.7 percent. He leads all rookies with 17.0 points per game and his 5.1 assists are second behind Minnesota's Ricky Rubio.
Cleveland will try to return home with a .500 overall record, and more importantly, with some extra road confidence.
"A lot of teams would take that," forward Antawn Jamison said of the possibility of a 3-4 trip. "For us, we want to finish the road trip on a winning note and mature and learn from it."
The Bobcats (3-10) haven't had much success anywhere this season, but they snapped a six-game skid with a 112-100 win over Golden State on Saturday.
Rookie Kemba Walker made his first NBA start in place of benched veteran Boris Diaw, who had started a franchise-record 235 straight games but had scored just three points in the previous two games.
Walker scored a season-high 23 points and added four rebounds, five assists and two steals. Gerald Henderson had 26 points and six rebounds.
The Bobcats averaged 82.0 points the previous six games, but with Walker starting, they played effectively with a smaller lineup, shooting 50 percent and going 7 of 13 from 3-point range.
"Oh boy, it was just wonderful tonight to see the guys just play and just run the court," coach Paul Silas said. "We were talking about running and they did it tonight. A little change I thought really helped that, putting Kemba in.
"I think time is the key to life and it was the right time for him to get in there and he's ready. He's played like 11 or 12 games so far and he was ready."
Walker, the ninth overall pick in the 2011 draft, is averaging 11.1 points.
The Cavaliers have won their last two games against the Bobcats after Irving led the way with 20 points in a 115-101 victory Jan. 3 in Cleveland. They have, however, dropped four in a row in Charlotte.
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