INDEPENDENCE — The Cavaliers play on the road tonight against the Houston Rockets, but Thursday was one of those rare days when coach Byron Scott couldn’t help but look back.
With starters Kyrie Irving, Anderson Varejao and Dion Waiters — Scott called them the team’s “three best players” — out due to injury, the Cavs led LeBron James and the Miami Heat by 27 points with 7:44 left in the third period, but crumbled and lost 98-95 Wednesday night.
It was Miami’s 24th straight victory and improved the Heat to an NBA-best 53-14, while Cleveland, which lost its fourth in a row, fell to 22-46.
The wild night also featured a delay due to condensation dripping from a scoreboard canister used to make fog for pregame introductions, as well as a fan rushing onto the Quicken Loans Arena floor in the fourth quarter.
“You wake up in the middle of the night and just kind of shake your head,” Scott said following practice at Cleveland Clinic Courts. “You try to come up with explanations.
“Like I said (Wednesday) night, the biggest thing is our guys competed their you-know-whats off and played hard. We just had lulls against a team you can’t have lulls against.”
Scott also didn’t have one of his better coaching games as the Cavs set a franchise record for largest blown lead. Cleveland already had broken the record once this season, losing at Phoenix after leading by 26. There was also a 22-point blown lead against New York at The Q.
Scott, who is 62-154 (.287) in three seasons with the still-rebuilding Cavs, played rookie center Tyler Zeller, who had one of his best games in weeks with 12 points and 11 rebounds, less than two minutes in the pivotal fourth quarter.
Cleveland outscored the Heat by 28 points while Zeller was on the floor.
Scott also did not insert veteran swingman C.J. Miles, the team’s best scorer off the bench, in the third quarter, which is when Miami started a game-turning 48-14 run that took just 14 minutes.
At the same time, Scott probably stuck too long with Daniel Gibson (minus-26) and Luke Walton (minus-34), who played a combined 31 minutes on a night when they provided little, other than Gibson’s 3-pointer at the third-period buzzer.
Finally, Scott’s use — and non-use — of timeouts was also questionable in the second half.
It led to the 51-year-old taking some pretty harsh criticism on talk radio and on social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter, though in fairness, it should be pointed out his coaching probably played a hand in helping the Cavs go up 67-40 on a night when they were extremely shorthanded.
“No excuses,” Scott said. “We’ve got enough guys out there we feel can play and compete against the best teams in this league. We did that (Wednesday) night. We just didn’t come out with the victory we probably should have had.”
Scott put most of the blame on bad defense, as Miami made 10 3-pointers in the second half, when it scored 64 points after a 34-point first half.
“We gave them five just wide-open threes,” Scott said. “We messed up on assignments and they took advantage of every one of them.”
Down the road a bit, help could be on the way. Point guard Irving, whom the Cavs said on March 13 would be out three to four weeks with a sprained left shoulder, was shooting around at practice.
Scott said Irving’s rehabilitation is going well and did not rule out the second-year pro returning to action prior to the end of the regular season on April 17.
In other news, a team spokesman said the Cavs did a security review in light of the fan rushing onto the floor against the Heat. Unspecified changes in protocol will go into effect when Cleveland plays its next home game, Wednesday vs. Boston.
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or email@example.com.