David Blatt: Not a step forward

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- After a 103-84 loss to the Kings on Sunday, marking the Cleveland Cavaliers' fifth straight defeat and ninth in their past 11 games, Cavs coach David Blatt acknowledged his team has fallen on tough times.

"We're going through a lot of stuff, honestly," Blatt said after the Kings led by as many as 27 and represented the fourth sub-.500 team to beat the Cavs during their current slump. "We're going through a lot of trials and tribulations, a lot of changes. A lot of adjustments on the fly. Sometimes that catches up with you a little bit. Tonight was not a step forward."

"We're going through a lot of trials and tribulations, a lot of changes. A lot of adjustments on the fly. Sometimes that catches up with you a little bit. Tonight was not a step forward."
David Blatt, Cavaliers coach

Now 19-19, the Cavs are back at .500 for the first time since Nov. 26, when they were 7-7. The nine losses during the downturn have been by an average of 14.2 points.

Perhaps more disconcerting is the fact that Sunday's loss dropped their record to just 1-8 without LeBron James in the lineup.

"It's very disappointing," Kevin Love said. "We hoped that we would be able to go at least .500 with him out. We feel like we have enough talent. But we just had a tough go without him. Obviously he brings so much to the table, but we just need to find a way to play without him.

"Fortunately, we believe he will be back at some point on this trip, but we just don't want to put a lot of pressure on him thinking that if he's out or if he gets in foul trouble that we can't win a basketball game. Because we have enough talent and enough guys that do enough things that we can win. So, it's just all a process in figuring it out, but right now we need to pick it up."

James is expected to go through a full practice with the Cavs on Monday in Phoenix for the first time since sitting out Dec. 30 because of strains to his lower back and left knee, but Kyrie Irving said that the four-time MVP's presence alone won't automatically fix things.

"Regardless of what happens, whoever is out there when LeBron comes back, you just still got to be a basketball player," Irving said. "Still be aggressive, still read the defenses, still pressure the other point guard and do the best I can to run the offense and do whatever it takes to win."

The frustration was palpable for the Cavs on Sunday at Sleep Train Arena. Irving, who has never been called for a technical foul in his four-year career, had to be held back by a teammate as he argued with a referee before making his way off the court to go to the visitor's locker room with Cleveland trailing 59-44 at halftime.

"I'm usually composed, but tonight my emotions got the best of me going into halftime," Irving said. "I just had to go into halftime and get my head right, that's all."

Blatt got defensive when a reporter pointed out the Cavs' struggles despite still having two "max" players in the lineup in Love and Irving.

"Well, Kev's not a max player yet, is he?" Blatt responded.

Blatt presumably was alluding to the fact that Love signed a four-year extension with Minnesota in 2012 instead of the maximum length of five years, but Love's yearly salary was still the maximum number allowed at the time. Love is expected to opt out of the final year of his current contract this summer to sign another max deal.

Blatt also said a game like Sunday's can "happen to any team," pointing out how the Cavs beat the Atlanta Hawks "by 40" when they are "the best team right now on paper in the East." (The win was actually by 33 points and it was 30 games ago.)

Despite scoring less than 90 points for the fifth time this season, Irving blamed the Kings loss on the Cavs' defense.

"At the end of the day, what it's going to boil down to when we stop this five-game losing streak is we got to get back in transition, including myself, and get consistent stops," Irving said. "In order to be a contending team, we got to get stops when we need to. When our offense is stagnant, we just got to trust our defense a little bit more. That way, we're in the game regardless of the score."

An NBA scout attending the Kings-Cavs game also criticized Cleveland's shoddy transition defense to ESPN.com.

The Kings scored 22 points off the Cavs' 14 turnovers and outscored Cleveland 17-5 in fast-break points.

"This is a team in disarray," the scout said. "They are so discombobulated out there with their new pieces. And it's not just that, there were guys not even crossing half court to get back on transition D."

Blatt, who said on Friday the team was improving despite its record following an 18-point loss to Golden State, tried to find a silver lining in the fact that Cleveland held Sacramento to 44 points on 42.5 percent shooting in the second half, but ultimately could not spin the result to a positive.

"It wasn't a good step today. It wasn't a good performance by us, honestly. You can't sugarcoat it," Blatt said. "There were in the second half good moments, particularly on the defensive end, and offensively we executed better -- we just didn't put the ball in the hole. Generally speaking, though, that was not the performance we hoped for."