Dribbles: Defense, clutch baskets elude Cavs in loss to Lakers

CLEVELAND — Random dribbles from the Cavaliers’ 121-115 home loss to the Lakers on Saturday.Donovan Mitchell and LeBron James get ready for a rebound

1. It wasn’t a whole lot of old friend LeBron James, but it was a whole lot of Anthony Davis. For the Cavs, it was also a whole lot of missed shots. Or at least, too many at the end.

2. One thing the game didn’t feature much of was defense. Not in the first half, anyway. That’s when the Cavs scored 71 points — which was fairly impressive since they didn’t weren’t exactly clicking on all cylinders. But they also gave up 70.

3. If the Cavs were able to even give a B-minus performance on defense for the majority of the game … well, this one may have turned out differently.

4. The game marked the return of Donovan Mitchell after missing four straight with a hamstring strain. He got to the basket just fine and looked the same as always — except the shots just wouldn’t drop. That’s not uncommon. Guys who miss a week with a leg-related issue can take a minute to reclaim their usual lift.

5. Mitchell finished with 22 points, though they came via a miserable 4-of-18 shooting. He stayed aggressive by going to the basket and hitting 12 of 13 free throws. But he missed a couple of biggies in the paint near the end. He did nothing wrong. The ball just didn’t go in the basket.

6. Mitchell on the misses: “Those are shots I worked on all week. They didn’t go in tonight and that’s on me. … I didn’t play well the whole second half.”

7. Of course, the basketball gods won’t allow Mitchell and Darius Garland to play together for a full game. Mitchell returned and Garland exited after again suffering a neck strain in the second quarter.

8. Garland actually missed one game with a neck strain last week and appeared to re-aggravate it after driving to the basket in the second quarter. He left his feet, flung a desperation pass out to the wing, then crashed to the court. 

9. This is far from official, but I’d be surprised if Garland plays Sunday at home vs. the Raptors. It’s too bad because it feels like he’s barely played with Mitchell in this early season. Officially, Garland is set to be reevaluated before the game.

10. Jarrett Allen was outstanding with 21 points on 9-of-12 shooting and a game-high 14 rebounds. He’s been absolute gold in two of the last three.

11. Overall, it seemed as if the Cavs were out of sorts for most of the night. They’d play really well offensively, then fail to make stops. Then, once they pulled it together defensively, the shots quit dropping.

12. That may be why coach J.B. Bickerstaff said he was pleased with the effort. And it’s hard to blame him for feeling that way. The Cavs (8-8) had several chances in the game’s final moments.

13. Again, this is nothing official, just my own thought — but it’s going to be tough for the Cavs to string together some wins until their main players can stay on the court together. Right now, they have no choice but to try to squeeze out a victory here and there with a bunch of mixed parts. And perhaps light holy candles and pray that they eventually get entirely healthy.

14. Evan Mobley had a nice stat line with 18 points, six rebounds and six assists, finishing 8-of-12 from the field. Max Strus and Georges Niang scored 13 apiece, with Strus burying a couple of 3-pointers to keep the Cavs in it near the end.

15. Allen on the defense in the first half: “That’s not us.” He was right. The one way to overcome missed shots is to make the other guys miss more. The Cavs can usually do that.

16. Davis was masterful for the Lakers (10-7) with 32 points and 13 boards. He killed the Cavs in the final 24 minutes. I don’t think the Lakers will get out of the West as currently constructed. But if I’m wrong, it will be because Davis has lots of games like this.

17. James had a massive dunk off an alley-oop from Austin Reaves (and received a technical for hanging on the rim). Other than that, he was just OK, and some may say even worse than that. Yes, LeBron scored 22, but he went 8-of-23 shooting, including 1-of-9 on threes. Nonetheless, he is still near the top of the league when it comes to setting up teammates.

18. Not to be forgotten for the Cavs: Rookie Craig Porter Jr. He scored 11 points in 17 minutes and again took it right at the opposing defense. He also scored Cleveland’s first seven points of the fourth quarter.

19. Porter did a nice job helping the Cavs overcome the loss of Mitchell last week. Now, he may have to try to step in for Garland.

20. Just like any loss at this time of year, the Cavs will have to quickly forget about it and move on. The Raptors (8-8) are in town on Sunday, and injuries or not, the Cavs must start taking care of business at home — where they are just 3-5. 

21. For the record, the Cavs are now 2-1 vs. LeBron in the Mitchell era, with Cleveland sweeping both games last year. They don’t meet again until the final week of the season (April 6 at Los Angeles).

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