At streak's end, Cavs now in better position

INDIANAPOLIS -- It’s a given that all streaks eventually come to an end. Yet, certainly, the fact that the Cleveland Cavaliers’ ended at 12 on Friday night, with a 103-99 loss to an Indiana Pacers team that is 13 games under .500, could be construed as a disappointment.

The loss prevented the Cavs from tying their franchise record of 13 wins in a row (set twice in 2009-10, the last season of LeBron James’ first stint in Cleveland), and, considering they squandered a nine-point lead with eight minutes to go in the fourth, it’s fair to say they blew an opportunity to set a record Sunday at home against the struggling L.A. Lakers.

Yes, the Cavs need as many wins as they can over these final 30 or so games in the regular season to bolster their position in the Eastern Conference standings. The streak did wonders, moving Cleveland into a virtual tie with Chicago for fourth and just a half game behind the slumping Washington Wizards for third, but there is still plenty of ground to make up to catch Toronto (three games ahead at No. 2) and Atlanta (eight games ahead at No. 1 and coming off an impressive 124-116 win over Golden State on Friday).

The streak doesn’t matter as much as the context of how they’re playing as a team.

And as bad as Friday’s loss might look based on the ground we already covered, there were also things you could point to in order to let them off the hook:

  • They were playing the second night of a home-road back-to-back.

  • It was a classic letdown scenario after perhaps their most complete win of the season, a rout of the L.A. Clippers on Thursday.

  • James aggravated his sprained right wrist after a flagrant foul from Roy Hibbert late in the third quarter and has also been playing on a sore right ankle since their win over Utah on Jan. 21.

  • If George Hill doesn’t hit a miraculous, shotput-like, one-handed heave on a continuation call with 1:26 remaining in the game that turned into a four-point play, the Pacers probably don’t win. “He shot the ball with one hand,” James said. “He makes 10 out of 10 of those, then you got to praise a guy like that. He shot the ball with one hand, a four-point play when we was up one, so you just tip your hat to a play like that.”

  • The Pacers attempted 26 free throws to the Cavs’ 12 and several split-decision calls went in Indiana’s favor, from a charge drawn by Matthew Dellavedova on Hill early in the fourth quarter that was overturned and changed into a blocking foul to James being called for a push-off on Hibbert with 2:09 remaining in the fourth that nullified a layup that would have put Cleveland up three to a dribble handoff between James and Kyrie Irving that was broken up late in the game by Hill after a lot of contact.

And despite all that, Cleveland still trailed by only three with 12.9 seconds remaining.

Of course, there was talk about the officiating.

“This is a very, very professional and great league, and the people that need to look at those things will look at them and it will educate who they have to educate,” Cavs coach David Blatt said, diplomatically. “And I think that’s a case where there should be some education.”

Added James about the offensive foul called against him: “It just wasn’t, it wasn’t a good call. I didn’t extend [his off arm]. I just put up an arm bar like every big guy would do if he’s shooting a jump hook in the post, they put their arm bar [out] and shoot the jump hook. It wasn’t a good call. ... I don’t want to get too far into it. I don’t want to get fined.”

But that’s just the postgame flotsam and jetsam that won’t have any bearing on the team moving forward, just like the Cavs’ relatively poor fourth-quarter execution (five turnovers leading to nine Pacers points and allowing Indiana to score 36 points total after holding it to just 67 points through the first three quarters) can be relegated to a one-night thing.

As Cavs veteran James Jones wisely said in the postgame locker room in putting the streak to rest: “This league is all about how you respond.”

The Cavs won’t have to respond to questionable calls (hopefully) against the Lakers or even have to worry about how tired legs could affect late-game execution, with a scheduled day off coming on Saturday.

But there are still some things going on with this team that were glossed over during the win streak -- because, you know, winning is what matters -- that need to be addressed for Cleveland to reach its ultimate destination in the postseason:

  • Kevin Love scored just five points against the Pacers, marking the second time in the past three games he hit for that season low. In between, he had an encouraging 24-point night against the Clippers, causing Blatt to sound off with: “I just got a little tired of everybody talking about Kevin Love. There’s nothing wrong with Kevin Love. ... Everybody can calm down a little bit, if you don’t mind.”

    A night later when he was asked about Love, he said, “I’m more concerned about the team than one or two guys,” ducking the question. Love’s explanation? “I felt last game, I got in the post and got myself going, got to the free throw line. And tonight, I was more of a spacer. I wasn’t necessarily being asked to score the ball tonight.”

    Remember, he is a three-time All-Star. Those guys usually like being asked to score the ball unless their name is Ben Wallace or Dennis Rodman. Also remember, he can opt out of his Cavs contract to test free agency this summer.

  • Love’s body is feeling it at this stage of the season, despite him and Blatt denying anything being wrong with the power forward. If you watch him, he often rubs his left knee, which was bumped into by Portland’s Chris Kaman back on Jan. 28.

  • James already missed one game because of his right wrist, against the Blazers, and it’s not out of the question he misses more. “It’s going to hurt a lot worse tomorrow,” James said of his wrist after the game. “I’m not looking forward to it. I’ll start my treatment tonight and just try to stay on it so hopefully I can go on Sunday.”

  • It was the first time the Cavs allowed an opponent to score 100-plus points since Game No. 2 of the streak, a 126-121 shootout over the Clippers. Indiana isn’t a particularly gifted offensive team either. So, while Cleveland’s D has undoubtedly improved, it still can be a fleeting thing if not continually worked on.

The good news? The Cavs know their strengths and their weaknesses at this point of the season. It’s all about enhancing the first category and hiding the second from here on out. And there’s the schedule: Cleveland plays three games over the next six days, then has seven games off for the All-Star break for James and Love and anybody else on the roster who is ailing to heal.

The streak is over. The march to the postseason is really just beginning.