David J. Phillip / Associated Press
Referee Scott Wall excuses Mike Brown for the remainder of Wednesday night’s game in Houston after Brown protested the lack of a foul during a LeBron James drive in the second quarter. The Cavaliers were whistled for six technical fouls during their 95-85 loss to the Rockets.
There’s a common trait that runs through most of the NBA. Winning streaks, players and whole teams are often quite fragile.
That came to mind Wednesday night when the Cavaliers, who 48 hours earlier were sitting on a four-game winning streak in which they were blowing out some of the better teams in the league, finished off their road trip with a second consecutive miserable performance.
This one, ultimately a 95-85 loss to the Houston Rockets, may up end qualifying as the worst showing of the season. Now they’ve got a two-game losing streak, suddenly are facing a host of issues and face six of the nine games before Christmas away from home.
As has often been the case in the Toyota Center over the years, LeBron James was left to try and hold things together. He gathered 27 points with six rebounds and seven assists. But he shot just 8-of-21, much as he always seems to shoot here, and the Cavs fell to 1-6 with James in Houston.
The Cavs (15-7) had a fine game plan coming in. It was well researched and thought out and made a lot of sense. The execution, though, turned out to be an embarrassing failure.
Facet one was to take advantage of the Rockets’ (12-9) preposterous lack of size. Shaquille O’Neal was facing the shortest opposing center of his career in Chuck Hayes, who stands 6-6. But the Rockets are undersized all around, including pint-sized point guard Aaron Brooks.
Then O’Neal went out and played perhaps his worst game of the season. He repeatedly got out of position, missing clear and easy shots and looked like the second oldest player in the league. Against Hayes, he went just 2-of-8 from the field and had just seven points. He did have 10 rebounds — for what it is worth.
In a related story, Mo Williams was outscored by Brooks, 27-7.
Game plan item No. 2 had to do with the officials.
Because of the way the Rockets play, which is fast and hectic on defense as they try to overcome their size disadvantage by bothering the opponent, coach Mike Brown wanted his team to stay cool with the officials. That is always a good idea on the road anyway.
David J. Phillip / Associated Press
Trevor Ariza and the Rockets took advantage of sluggish Cavaliers defense to repeatedly get inside shots, this time against J.J. Hickson (right) and Shaquille O’Neal.
So what happened? Just before halftime as he grew upset with some call and non-calls, Brown was ejected by referee Scott Wall for stomping out on the floor. Brown, perhaps upset at his team’s lack of intensity on the second night of a back-to-back, probably did it more to fire up his team than berate the officials.
But what happened after that was three players — Williams, O’Neal and Delonte West — got technicals for arguing other calls. Not exactly keeping cool. The Rockets made all of the technical free throws, a nice padding of their game-long lead.
Finally, another major focus point was to limit turnovers. Not just because that was a major thorn in the side of the team in Tuesday’s loss in Memphis, but because that is how the Rockets usually win. Without the injured Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady, the Rockets get offense by scoring off turnover-fed fast breaks.
So the Cavs took that information and went out and committed 20 turnovers, 14 in the second half when they still were very much in the game. Those miscues cost 22 points and the Rockets ended up with 18 fast-break points. Again, not only was it a violation of the game plan but it is a lousy way to attempt to win on the road.
Trevor Ariza often took advantage at the end of the plays and he used the easy hoops and 4-of-6 shooting on 3-pointers to put up 26 points.
There was plenty of other ugliness going on, though, and some comedy. Moments such as West missing a wide-open dunk in transition with the Cavs trying to make a fourth-quarter comeback. Or James fumbling an uncontested rebound out of bounds.
To add to the evening, Daniel Gibson suffered an injury to his right pinky in the first half and didn’t return. X-rays were negative but it was the third consecutive year the Cavs have had a player injured in Houston. Last season Ben Wallace broke his leg.
By Brian Windhorst