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The Cleveland Cavaliers (26-15) were in need of a wake-up call after the Minnesota Timberwolves blew them out by 28 points on Monday.
They didn’t get one.
Instead, the defending Eastern Conference champions laid an egg and fell to the Toronto Raptors 133-99 at Air Canada Centre on Thursday night.
The Cavaliers have now lost six of their last eight games dating back to Christmas and own a slim two-game edge over the fourth-seeded Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference standings.
On the surface, the Cavaliers appeared to be in a get-right spot since the Raptors were without point guard Kyle Lowry (bruised tailbone) and power forward Serge Ibaka—who was suspended one game for exchanging punches with Miami Heat forward James Johnson on Tuesday.
However, Toronto (29-11) didn’t look like a team operating at a disadvantage.
While DeMar DeRozan was quiet with 13 points, swingman C.J. Miles (16 points) and center Jonas Valanciunas (15 points, 18 rebounds) both stepped up and stabilized the starting lineup.
Toronto’s bench also proved exceptional and outscored the Wine and Gold reserves 76-48.
Backup floor general Fred VanVleet sparked the second unit charge with 22 points and four assists, while 2016 lottery pick Jakob Poeltl made the most of his 25 minutes with 12 points, 12 boards and three blocks:
NBA TV @NBATV
Jakob Poeltl is out here hosting a block party in Toronto! 🖐❌ https://t.co/R6lZSdgtyP
Those results were the product of sharp execution, but they were also facilitated by bouts of lazy defense from the Cavaliers:
Bleacher Report @BleacherReport
That Cavs defense 😖 https://t.co/cqWQzgYJ7M
Cleveland’s lackluster efforts didn’t go unnoticed by observers watching at home:
Tim Bontemps @TimBontemps
These are the dog days of the NBA season. And the Cavaliers are putting that fully on display with this effort tonight against a severely undermanned Raptors team.
David Aldridge @daldridgetnt
No game in January means anything in June. But this is not the same iso ball Toronto team that Cleveland throttled in the playoffs the past few years. The Cavs might improve defensively, but the Raptors have many more ways to score than in the past. Much tougher out this year.
Chris Herring @Herring_NBA
Props to the Raptors, who are down several guys. Making the Cavs look like what we saw from them at the beginning of the season.
They also seemed to be the topic of conversation from LeBron James during one particularly intense huddle:
Bleacher Report @BleacherReport
Bron upset 😤 https://t.co/SHbbarIDyd
The Cavaliers’ struggles translated on the other end, as well. Although James finished with a game-high 26 points, all other Cleveland starters combined to score 25 points.
Isaiah Thomas’ performance was of particular concern as he floundered to the tune of four points on 2-of-15 shooting. Over his last two games, Thomas has posted 13 points on 5-of-26 shooting while making one of his last 11 three-point attempts.
“We have … this is just us during the regular season,” James said at Thursday’s shootaround, per ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin. “It’s four years since I’ve been back and this has just been us. We have great months, we have not so good months, we have times when we’re not playing well, we’ve got times when we are playing well. This is just us. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde at times.”
With two embarrassing losses in the rear-view mirror, the Cavaliers will attempt to snap out of their funk Friday night against the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
The Raptors, in search of back-to-back wins, will have a day off before they host the Golden State Warriors on Saturday evening.