The Cleveland Cavaliers have been the East's version of the Oklahoma City Thunder of late, trading questionable losses with the kinds of dominant wins that most teams use as springboards to impressive streaks. Sunday's road blowout of the Los Angeles Clippers definitely qualified as one of the latter, a 24-point win that included a season-best 18 three-pointers (on 37 attempts). It was enough to make our Dan Devine list the Cavs as the most interesting team in the NBA, although that ranking carried the assumption that the conference favorites would slip up again relatively soon.
Naturally, it took Cleveland a little more than 24 hours to hit another disappointment. Traveling to a Utah Jazz team fresh off losing star wing Gordon Hayward to plantar fasciitis, the Cavs shot a terrible 10-of-42 from beyond the arc and 39.8 percent from the field for a rough 94-85 loss.
It was an ugly game that got even worse with just under four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. Up 86-75, rookie Utah forward Trey Lyles faced up Channing Frye and swung his arms to create separation. An elbow made contact with Frye's groin area, prompting an immediate grimace and eventual headbutt to Lyles. The incident escalated further when Frye appeared to swing his arm in the direction of Lyles, although Jazz wing Joe Ingles ended up closer to the action. Take a look:
A lengthy replay review resulted in the ejections of both Lyles (due to a flagrant-2 foul for the elbow) and Frye (for technical fouls). The Cavaliers suffered greater by losing a capable three-point shooter, although Frye had gone just 1-of-3 in his 19 minutes up until that point.
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Frankly, Cleveland looked headed for a loss regardless of who took the court. LeBron James was the team's only key player to impress at the offensive end, going 10-of-20 from the field for a team-high 23 points. Elsewhere, Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, and J.R. Smith combined to shoot 4-of-24 from beyond the arc. It was a rough night all around, especially given the opportunity to gain ground on the Toronto Raptors after their earlier loss to the Chicago Bulls at the Air Canada Centre. Instead, the Cavs lost to another shorthanded team just six days after dropping one to an eight-man Memphis Grizzlies outfit without most of its top offensive weapons. That loss was far worse than Monday's, but they feel related nonetheless.
The biggest difference this time was that the Jazz had a budding perimeter star in the lineup even with Hayward unavailable. Second-year shooting guard Rodney Hood has been one of the NBA's breakout players of the last few months, and he had another terrific game with 28 points on very efficient shooting (9-of-16 FG, 4-of-9 3FG, 6-of-6 FT).
Serving as primary playmaker in Hayward's stead, Hood spearheaded an ideal offensive night for Utah — they controlled tempo, made open shots, and generally frustrated Cleveland into playing their game. At 32-35, the Jazz sit two games behind the Dallas Mavericks for the final playoff spot in the West.
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