INDEPENDENCE — The Cavaliers are feeling better about themselves, but they know they still have some work to do.
Cleveland has won three of its last four to improve to 7-13 heading into a game against the New York Knicks tonight at Quicken Loans Arena, but the loss was a debacle Friday in Atlanta in which the Cavs trailed by 29 points.
“It might happen to us again,” coach Mike Brown said Monday following practice at Cleveland Clinic Courts. “We’re not going to go out and be world-beaters and beat everybody by 20 and hold teams that score 100-plus points to 80. We could get our heads handed to us again. That’s part of the growth process as well.
“We got our behinds kicked in Atlanta,” he added. “I said that and I’ll say it again. We didn’t play as hard as I thought we were capable of. I don’t like that, I didn’t like it before and I still don’t like it now. I’m not using it as any type of excuse, but that’s still the reality of this process.”
In the Knicks, who are 5-14 overall and a woeful 2-8 at Madison Square Garden, the Cavs will be playing a team much like themselves. New York is coming off a horrendous 114-73 home loss to Boston on Sunday in which the Celtics led 34-11, 58-31 and 92-56 at the quarter breaks.
“For us, shoot, every team is a dangerous team,” Brown said. “If we go out and don’t play the right way, we could get beat by 30. We’ve got to respect every team we face whether we’re at home or on the road.
“They get paid NBA salaries and they’ve got pride and all that other crap everybody talks about,” he added. “They’re going to come out almost like a wounded animal and fight and scrap and claw just to prove to themselves, first, and everybody else, second, that (Sunday) was a fluke.”
The Cavs, who are 1-10 on the road and 6-3 at The Q, have beaten Chicago, Denver and the Los Angeles Clippers in their last three home games.
The run-and-gun Clippers were held to 82 points and 39 percent shooting Saturday, which Brown and his players view as a positive sign.
“The approach we’ve been taking, from the first minute of the game to the last minute, has been there,” veteran guard Jarrett Jack said. “That’s been the biggest difference.”
Another positive for the Cavs is that despite their 7-13 record, they entered Monday 10th in the Eastern Conference standings, just two games back of Chicago (8-10), which held down the eighth and final playoff spot.
Only Indiana (18-3), Miami (16-5) and Atlanta (11-10) began the week with winning records in the East, so Cleveland could move up — or down — quickly.
“It is what it is,” Brown said of the East. “It’s good for us. It still keeps us in the mix.”
Brown, however, is much more concerned with how his team plays than what the rest of the clubs in the East are doing or not doing.
“We know what to do now,” he said. “There were times in November when we didn’t know what to do on each individual play. Not only them, but me.”
Brown also mentioned his players are becoming closer as a unit, while at the same time hinting that might not have been the case earlier in the season.
Not that the Cavs are completely out of the woods yet.
“There’s a lot of outside influences that are pulling at us, individually and as a group, saying, ‘This ain’t going to work,’ or ‘This is terrible,’” he said. “As individuals, we have to be strong-willed, strong-minded.”
The Cavs recalled swingman Carrick Felix and center Henry Sims from the Canton Charge, their NBA Developmental League affiliate. Felix appeared in two games and averaged 11.5 points and 5.5 rebounds in 22.5 minutes a night. Sims also appeared in two games and averaged 15.0 points and 5.0 rebounds in 21.5 minutes.
* Brown said the plan is to play center Andrew Bynum between 25 and 30 minutes. Bynum has looked good over the past few weeks, but the team will continue to take a cautious approach due to the 26-year-old’s chronic knee problems.