Lakers-Cavaliers Preview


Having Steve Nash on the court for the first time in nearly three months wasn't enough to get the Los Angeles Lakers out of their funk.

The injury-riddled Lakers and slumping Cavaliers bring identical records and similar lengthy losing streaks into their matchup in Cleveland on Wednesday night.

Nash and fellow point guard Steve Blake were both back from long injury absences on Tuesday, but Kevin Love was too much for the Lakers (16-32) to handle in a 109-99 loss at Minnesota that extended their skid to seven and was their 19th defeat in 22 games.

The slide is Los Angeles' longest since a seven-game skid from March 2-15, 2007.

After missing 34 games because of a nerve problem in his back, Nash was in the starting lineup and finished with seven points and nine assists. The two-time league MVP logged 25 minutes - about 10 more than he was supposed to play.

"I feel a bit selfish in that we lost but it felt great just to play in the NBA again," said a smiling Nash, who will turn 40 on Friday. "Obviously the game didn't go as we hoped, but for me personally that's pretty cool to be back out there."

Coach Mike D'Antoni was pleased after Nash shot 3 for 6 with two turnovers.

"I thought he competed, and we've got to have everybody compete that way," he said.

Blake, who was playing for the first time since tearing an elbow ligament Dec. 10, was scoreless in more than 32 minutes, but chipped in six assists and five rebounds.

While Nash and Blake were in the starting lineup, the Lakers were without Pau Gasol, who sat out because of a strained groin and is expected to be sidelined for the final five games before the All-Star break.

Fellow forwards Jodie Meeks and Jordan Hill also may be out against the Cavs (16-32) because of injuries. Meeks played fewer than 90 seconds against Minnesota before leaving with a sprained ankle, while Hill left later in the first quarter due to a neck strain.

With so many key players banged up, the Lakers' reserves will need to continue playing well. The team's starters scored 27 points against the Timberwolves compared to 72 from the bench. Nick Young led the way with 24 points, while Manny Harris added 19.

The Lakers' bench players average 41.0 points, among the most in the NBA.

"I just feel for those guys. I just was in their position," Blake said of Meeks and Hill. "Unfortunately it's a part of the game, and the rest of us have to pick it up."

Cleveland has also been dealing with injuries, though not nearly on the same level as Los Angeles. Center Anderson Varejao missed three games because of a left knee injury, but he returned Monday in a 124-107 loss to Dallas that was the team's fifth in a row.

Varejao had 10 points, one of seven Cavaliers players to reach double-figures. Kyrie Irving scored 27 points, Luol Deng added 18 and Tristan Thompson 17.

The biggest issue for Cleveland during its losing streak has been defense, with opponents averaging 109.2 points and shooting 51.3 percent in the five games. In the 43 games prior to the losing streak, the Cavs allowed 101.3 points and 45.2 percent shooting.

"We know we have to get better, we know we have to do something to change this," Varejao said. "We need to keep working hard and trying to think about the (Lakers). Our goal now is to win the next game."

Deng scored 27 points in Cleveland's 120-118 road win against the Lakers in the first meeting between the two on Jan. 14. Meeks had 26 points to lead Los Angeles in that one.

The Cavaliers have dominated the Lakers on their home floor in recent seasons, winning seven of the past eight meetings in Cleveland.