Mired in a brutal losing stretch, the Cleveland Cavaliers have proven especially bad over their last two games without their top two scorers.
While the Minnesota Timberwolves have had to deal with their fair share of injuries, it was an inability to convert from the free throw line that plagued them their last time out.
Cleveland, loser of three straight and 13 of 15, could be without Dion Waiters again Friday night when it visits Minnesota.
With Kyrie Irving (22.9 points per game) still expected to miss a couple more weeks due to a fractured finger that's sidelined him since mid-November, the Cavaliers (4-15) have found themselves in an even bigger hole with Waiters out. The No. 4 overall pick in this year's draft, averaging 15.2 points, has been sidelined since spraining his left ankle during Saturday's 118-117 double-overtime loss to Portland.
After shooting a season-worst 33.7 percent in Monday's 89-79 loss at Detroit, the Cavaliers shot 36.5 percent in a 95-85 defeat to Chicago on Wednesday. Cleveland had a season-low 11 points in the first quarter and entered the second down by 16.
"I'm proud of our guys. They're battling. They're playing as hard as they can right now," coach Byron Scott said. "A lot of things are not going our way, but in that first quarter, we kind of let it get out of hand. We couldn't make a shot and we couldn't get stops, but after that we played pretty solid.
"That's the problem with us. We have to play a near perfect game on both ends of the floor. ... We're just going to keep working. That's the only thing we can do."
Anderson Varejao, averaging 15.0 points and league-best 15.4 rebounds, posted 11 and 15 on Wednesday but shot 4 of 16. Donald Sloan had a season-high 14 points while fellow reserve Tyler Zeller scored 10 to go along with seven boards.
"It's the NBA," Scott added. "We're not the only team going through having some guys who are hurt that you wish were out there. We'll play the guys we have available. We're not going to cry about the guys who aren't here."
Cleveland now tries to bounce back against Minnesota (8-9), which had won three of four before falling 104-94 at Boston on Wednesday. Kevin Love had 19 points and 13 rebounds but made just 6 of 12 free throws for the Timberwolves, who went a season-worst 14 of 30 from the foul line.
"We're gonna make free throws," coach Rick Adelman said. "Kevin Love's not gonna miss these free throws - he's an 80-85 percent free-throw shooter. Sometimes you go throw it, we just have to stay with it and understand that's part of the game you gotta execute."
Shooting 71.1 percent from the free throw line to rank 27th in the league, Minnesota has gone 4-0 when it makes at least 80.0 percent of its attempts and 4-9 when it doesn't.
The Timberwolves, who played their first nine games without Love (broken right hand), are still without Ricky Rubio (torn ACL), Brandon Roy (knee) and Chase Budinger (torn left meniscus). Andrei Kirilenko, meanwhile, could miss his fifth straight game due to back spasms.
Minnesota had posted back-to-back wins in this series before coming up short 98-87 on Jan. 6 despite Love's 29 points and 14 rebounds. He's averaging 24.3 and 17.0 in his last three matchups against Cleveland, going 10 for 15 from 3-point range.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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