With Anderson Varejao sitting out with a bruised knee, Cleveland never really had a chance against the Indiana Pacers, falling 99-89 at Quicken Loans Arena.
The Cavs (5-23), who own the second-worst record in the league, have now lost six in a row, 11-of-12, 15-of-17 and 21-of-24. There is no sure win on their calendar, conventional or Mayan.
Cleveland has also lost 17 straight games in the extremely mediocre Central Division, where Indiana (15-12) could soon be in first place. The Cavs’ last win in their division came on Feb. 21 of last season against Detroit.
“Everybody has to have fun out there,” said Cavs point guard Kyrie Irving, who didn’t after scoring 17 points on 5-for-16 shooting and six turnovers. “Everybody worries about wins and losses. We just have to go out and compete.”
As bad as their record is, the Cavs have competed with teams for the most part, but they’ve also had a penchant for having one horrible stretch in almost every game.
Against the Pacers, it came in the third quarter, when Cleveland gave up 33 points and allowed Indiana to shoot 68 percent from the field.
When the Pacers missed, the Cavs sometimes rebounded and threw the outlet pass right to an Indiana player, leading to an uncontested dunk. Or the Cavs didn’t rebound at all, instead simply moving aside while Pacers big men tipped in missed free throws.
“I’m not running out of ideas yet, but I’m getting close,” Cavs coach Byron Scott said. “As patient as I am, the one thing I’m getting more than ever is frustrated.”
The only time the Cavs showed any real sign of life in the second half Friday was when Indiana big man Tyler Hansbrough singlehandedly riled up the entire Cleveland team, and even then they probably could have gotten a little more heated.
With 10:39 left in the fourth quarter, Hansbrough and the Cavs’ Daniel Gibson exchanged words and received technical fouls, with Hansbrough also getting into a minor scuffle with Tristan Thompson.
With no time having gone off the clock, Hansbrough and Thompson — they also had an altercation Dec. 12 in Indiana — were called for a double foul while battling for a potential rebound when Gerald Green made the second of two free throws.
Soon after that, Hansbrough had a turnover, missed a jumper and clanked a dunk, but all the Cavs managed to do was cut an 11-point deficit to eight.
Moments later, the Pacers and Hansbrough — he referred to Gibson as “Bibby or Boobie or whatever his name is” — were once again in total control.
“We have to come out with fire,” said Thompson, the Cavs’ best player with 12 points and 13 rebounds.
“(Hansbrough) started in on me. It doesn’t faze me. I don’t pay attention to it.”
Cleveland also got 12 points and seven boards from slow-starting but hard-working Tyler Zeller, who started in place of Varejao, and 11 points apiece from Alonzo Gee and Dion Waiters. Waiters, who added seven assists, was 4-for-12 from the field, meaning Cleveland’s starting backcourt was 9-for-28.
Irving spent most of the first half throwing the ball all over The Q — “He’s got to do a better job making decisions and he knows that,” Scott said — and most of the second hoisting hurried jumpers that missed.
“I’m still trying to find that balance where I get everyone involved,” the second-year point guard said. “I’m trying to get my bigs shots and my guards shots. I’m still trying to figure it out. It’s frustrating at times, but it’s a process.”
Irving is also increasingly chastising his teammates for what he perceives as mistakes, even though he has more turnovers (23) than assists (22) over his last five games.
“The trust is not there on both ends,” he said. “We’ve got to figure out a way to stay together.”
Cleveland actually led 45-44 at halftime against the seemingly disinterested Pacers, but all that changed when Indiana tightened its defense in the third quarter and went on a 23-6 run.
Roy Hibbert led Indiana with 18 points, while Lance Stephenson had a season-high 16 on 7-for-8 shooting and David West had 15 and 10 rebounds.
“We were right there for most of the game,” Zeller said. “We can have that one lapse where we fall apart.”
Varejao missed his second straight game with a bruised right knee and is also unlikely to play tonight when Cleveland visits Milwaukee.
“Andy doesn’t want to miss games,” said Scott, who made the decision to sit Varejao. “That’s the one thing about him right now — he wants to be out there with his teammate.”
• The Cavs recalled big man Jon Leuer from Canton of the NBA Development League on Thursday. Leuer averaged 20.3 points and 12.3 rebounds in six starts with the Charge.
• Donald Sloan joined Varejao on the inactive list versus the Pacers.