INDEPENDENCE — The good news for the Cavaliers? A horrific loss didn’t become catastrophic.
Center Anderson Varejao had an MRI on his left knee Monday morning and it confirmed the original diagnosis of soreness and general wear and tear.
The oft-injured Varejao, who has appeared in every game this season after playing in just 81 over the three previous seasons combined, did not practice. His availability for tonight’s game at Quicken Loans Arena against the New Orleans Pelicans is uncertain.
“I think he’ll be OK,” coach Mike Brown said at Cleveland Clinic Courts.
The 6-foot-11, 267-pound Varejao suffered the injury Sunday while battling for an offensive rebound — he was called for a loose-ball foul — with 4:25 left in Cleveland’s 99-90 loss to the Phoenix Suns.
He fell to the floor on the baseline near the Suns bench and was clutching his knee in agony — the entire Cavs team went down to check on him — but eventually walked off under his own power while flexing his left leg.
Varejao, who is averaging 8.8 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.6 assists, stayed in the game following a timeout, but appeared to be moving a bit gingerly on a night when he shot 1-for-9 from the field.
Varejao wasn’t the only player to miss practice Monday, nor was he the only Cavs player to shoot poorly Sunday, when Cleveland went 2-for-22 from the field (.091) in a six-point third quarter that turned an 18-point halftime lead into a one-point deficit.
As has been the case since he was traded to the Cavs on Jan. 6, veteran small forward Luol Deng didn’t practice due to soreness in his Achilles’ tendon. Deng has started every game since coming to Cleveland.
Seldom-used rookie Carrick Felix, who just rejoined the team Sunday after a stint with the Canton Charge of the NBA Developmental League, is slated to undergo an MRI on his sore left knee.
As for the collapse against the Suns, who went on a 38-9 run over the first 15 minutes of the second half after trailing by 20 points late in the second quarter, the Cavs watched the entire third quarter — Phoenix won the period 25-6 and the second half 56-29 — in their Monday film session.
“We got some decent looks in the third quarter,” Brown said. “We missed them. We ran the same stuff in the first half. We just missed shots (in the second half).”
The Cavs wound up going 10-for-42 (.238) in the second half, but what still bothered Brown more a day later was his team’s porous defense after intermission, particularly when Phoenix made five quick 3-pointers in the third period.
“It was almost like every miss that we had, we tightened up a little more,” he said. “When that happens — I don’t care if we score six points or if we score 10 points or even 24 points — especially if the other team is scoring, we have to lock down defensively.”
After going 3-2 on a five-game road trip, the Cavs (16-28) are 1-3 on a five-game homestand that concludes tonight. They’ve had similar lapses in some of those losses, but took things to a new level — or new low — against Phoenix.
“I’m not just blaming it straight on defense,” Brown said. “But we let our offense affect our defense.”