The Cleveland Cavaliers promised they would improve following an opening night drubbing at home courtesy of the Dallas Mavericks. For a while, they delivered - then things got even worse.
Cleveland (13-16) looks to win consecutive games for the first time in a month on Wednesday when it travels to the American Airlines Center to take on the Dallas Mavericks, who are 13-2 at home.
After losing their home opener 92-74 to the Mavericks on Oct. 31, the Cavaliers won nine of their next 14 and were starting to look like the team that brought Cleveland its first Eastern Conference title a season ago. But LeBron James sprained his finger in a blowout loss to Detroit on Nov. 28 and lost five straight after that with him out of the lineup.
They had lost 10 of 13 prior to a 96-82 Christmas Day win against Miami. The 82 points scored by the Heat were the second fewest allowed by Cleveland this season.
"When we play defense we're a pretty good team,'' said James, who had 25 points, 12 assists and six rebounds. "When we don't, we don't look so well - simple as that. (This) was a good step.''
After finishing fifth in the NBA in scoring defense with 92.9 points per game last season, the Cavaliers' defense has been porous in 2007-08. They've allowed 100.3 ppg and have given up 100 or more 17 times in 29 games after yielding 100 just 18 times all of last season.
Cleveland last won back-to-back games when it beat Indiana and Boston on Nov. 25-27. The win at Conseco Fieldhouse also was the last Cavaliers road victory - they've lost seven straight away from home since.
Playing Dallas has been a struggle for the Cavaliers regardless of location. They're 2-12 against the Mavericks since Feb. 15, 2001, and haven't won in Dallas since March 23, 2000. They've dropped the last seven road games in the series by an average of 16.7 points.
James scored just 10 in Cleveland's loss to Dallas earlier this season - one of only 11 times he's been held to 10 or fewer in his career - but has averaged 29.1 points against the Mavericks lifetime.
Dallas (19-10) had won five straight before losing 99-90 at Utah on Wednesday, its only road game in an eight-game stretch. They fell behind 16-0 to start the game and though they cut the Jazz lead to one by halftime, a 31-point third quarter by Utah was too much for the Mavericks to overcome.
"We weren't very good from the start but you've got to give our guys credit for battling and coming back,'' Dallas coach Avery Johnson said.
Dirk Nowitzki had 20 to lead the Mavericks, but shot just 3-of-10 from 3-point range, which is almost exactly his average from beyond the arc this season. The 7-footer, who made more than 40 percent of his 3-pointers the last two seasons, is shooting just 30.1 percent in 2007-08.
Nowitzki has averaged 21.2 points in 17 career meetings with the Cavaliers, though he scored just 15 in Dallas' victory earlier this season.
Mavericks point guard Jason Terry who has really excelled again Cleveland. He's averaged 17.9 points in 27 games against the Cavaliers and has had two of the best five games of his career against them - a 43-point effort in 2002, and 38 in 2001 while playing for Atlanta.
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