Struggling Timofey Mozgov in a make-or-break situation with the Cavs

PHILADELPHIA -- The look on LeBron James' face said it all.

As the Cleveland Cavaliers marched off the court to end the first half with a measly 48-47 lead over the hapless Philadelphia 76ers, James was a few feet behind Timofey Mozgov, staring daggers into the back of the center's head.

It was a disastrous seven seconds for Mozgov that preceded the halftime buzzer, with the 7-footer taking a 3-pointer from the left wing with 6.9 seconds on the clock, when the Cavs had been planning to hold the ball for the final possession. He missed it, Philadelphia's Nik Stauskas grabbed the rebound and pushed it ahead to Sixers center Jahlil Okafor, who beat Mozgov down the floor and scored a runner before time expired.

"We took a shot that was too quick," Cavs coach David Blatt said afterward, without specifically naming Mozgov. "You don't take a shot with seven seconds on the clock when you have the last possession of the offense. It doesn't matter who's taking it or what the situation is, you want to get the last shot."

Mozgov didn't play another second. Blatt benched him for the second half and the big man finished with only two points on 1-for-4 shooting, four rebounds, two fouls and a turnover in nine minutes.

Blatt said he kept Mozgov out "not only" because of the ill-advised 3-point attempt, but because Philly was playing small and Cleveland wanted to match. But the intent seemed loud and clear.

James, who conceded earlier in the season that he might need to soften his approach with Mozgov while the center tried to regain his conditioning and confidence following an offseason procedure on his knee, seemed at a loss for words when asked about Movgov following Cleveland's 95-85 victory against the 76ers.

"I'm not sure," James said. "I'm not sure where he's mentally. Only he knows that. As a leader of the team, you just give him as much positive energy, give him as much positive notion about what he needs to do for our team. But at the end of the day, like I told you guys last year about Kev [Love], you can give a guy so much but at the end of the day, you got to figure it out yourself too sometimes. I think he's at that point."

Mozgov, for his part, did not want to declare the Philadelphia game as some meaningful moment to illustrate his struggles this season.

"Sometimes it's the wrong shot," Mozgov said. "It's not like you every time take the right shot. Sometimes it's the wrong shot."

He admitted he was aware of how much time was left and labeled his choice "a mistake."

When asked about being benched, he said, "I'm a player, I'm always ready to play. ... It doesn't matter to me. He puts me in the game, I play. He doesn't put me in the game I don't play. Simple."

Despite the fact he's averaging only 4.3 points and 4.4 rebounds since Tristan Thompson replaced him in the starting lineup seven games ago Mozgov does not feel he's regressing.

"I'm going in the right direction," Mozgov said. "I feel perfect. Like best I think since surgery. My knee gets better and I think I'm going in the right direction."

Like James said, only Mozgov knows if he truly believes it when he says he feels "perfect." If indeed that is the case, then perhaps he has the requisite thick skin and steely determination to turn his season around.

If not, that seat on the bench could become pretty customary. Blatt admitted that he toyed with the idea of playing Anderson Varejao, who has been racking up DNP-CDs as of late, in the second half while Mozgov sat. Varejao, who James called the "best teammate we got" along with James Jones, is apparently doing everything he can should he get a chance in Mozgov's spot.

"He's staying ready," James said. "He's been working on his game every day in case he gets the call and that's all you can ask out of a professional."

It's make or break time for Mozgov. As Yahoo reported this week, teams around the league have been making calls about him to see if he is available.

A source with knowledge of the team's thinking told ESPN.com that the Cavs aren't inclined to trade Mozgov, however. They already traded away two first-round picks to acquire him last season, and they don't feel as if there is a center available with Mozgov's size and potential. Even though Mozgov will be a free agent this summer and could fetch a price higher than the Cavs would be willing to spend, their preference is to keep him for the rest of the season, with the hope he turns it around.

But the only way Mozgov will have any chance of getting back on track is by actually playing. If his seat on the bench becomes permanent, the Cavs might have to rethink their stance about wanting to keep him.