NEW ORLEANS — On Friday, Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said his patience had not been tested by a rocky start to the season.
While he’d seen no need to get upset after five games, especially considering injuries to his top two point guards, the Cavs pushed him a step closer to the precipice Saturday night.
They showed some life with a 21-7 run to start the third quarter, but the New Orleans Pelicans had too many weapons and claimed a 123-101 victory at Smoothie King Center.
“I’m not concerned,” Lue said.
Losers of three of their last four games and 0-2 on the road trip to Brooklyn and New Orleans, the Cavs return home to host the New York Knicks today.
The Pelicans extended their home winning streak against the Cavs to seven. The Cavs’ last victory in New Orleans came on March 24, 2010. LeBron James played for the Cavs in only three of those Pelicans’ victories in the string.
Plagued by early season injuries, the Cavs got another scare when Kevin Love went down with 4:13 remaining in the third quarter after Anthony Davis backed into Love’s leg.
Love did return and hit two free throws before the game got out of hand and Lue sat his starters for most of the fourth quarter on the first night of a back-to-back.
Love finished with 26 points and 11 rebounds, hitting 7 of 12 field goals, 5 of 6 threes and all seven of his free throw attempts. He keyed the Cavs’ early third-quarter run with three 3-pointers.
Love was one of the Cavs’ few bright spots, along with the performance of Dwyane Wade. Returning after missing one game with a bruised left knee, Wade led the second unit and finished with 15 points on 7-of-12 shooting and four assists.
But Lue may have gotten on the plane a bit more frustrated after the Cavs were outscored by 13 points in the first quarter. That brought their total in the past four games to minus-44 in that period against the Magic, Bulls, Nets and Pelicans.
“At some point we’ll get tired of being down early,” Wade said. “At some point we’ll get tired of being a .500 ball club.”
The Cavs’ perimeter defense, a bone of contention for Lue over the same stretch, regressed even further.
The Cavs had allowed 17 3-pointers in each of the previous three games. At halftime, the Pelicans had connected on 8-of-14 from long range and one of those was a nearly full-court heave to end the second quarter.
In the first two quarters, the Pelicans shot 58 percent from the field and 57 percent from beyond the arc. They finished with 13 threes and hit 53 percent from the field, including 42 percent from deep.
With Derrick Rose unable to return as expected from a sprained left ankle that sidelined him for the fourth consecutive game, Lue inserted Iman Shumpert into the starting lineup and let James run the point for the third game in a row.
Lue moved Tristan Thompson up from the second unit to start at center so the pounding Love was taking there wouldn’t disrupt his offensive game. Jae Crowder went to the second unit after starting all season.
None of the adjustments made a difference.
After the first 24 minutes, James had a plus/minus of -17. He’d scored eight points, hit 2 of 7 field goals and was 0-for-1 from 3-point range. He had five assists and one rebound in nearly 19 minutes.
James totaled 18 points, five rebounds and eight assists with four turnovers in over 30 minutes. He improved his plus/minus to -10.
Shumpert scored five of the Cavs’ first 12 points, then was no factor. J.R. Smith, mired in a shooting slump, had only three attempts.
And the Cavs who were open missed badly, most notably Jeff Green and Crowder.
Except for the start of the third quarter, the Pelicans were spectacular. Davis started after missing one game with left knee quad tendinitis and turned in a 30-point, 14-rebound night with three blocked shots.
DeMarcus Cousins entered the day second in the league in scoring (33), fourth in rebounding (14.2) and third in blocks per game (2.8). He turned in his seventh career triple-double with 29 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists.
“They’re probably the best 4-5 combo we have in our league,” James said of Davis and Cousins at shootaround. “They’re going to be very challenging on our bigs and on our guards to help our bigs out, not only with defending them, but rebounding and containing them. They’re beasts.”
But those weren’t the only opponents who caused the Cavs problems. All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday hit 12-of-17 from the field for 29 points with seven assists. E’Twaun Moore connected on 10 of 13 shots for 24 points.
Pelicans 123, Cavs 101
CLEVELAND (101): James 6-11 5-6 18, Love 7-12 7-7 26, Thompson 3-7 1-2 7, JR Smith 1-3 0-0 3, Shumpert 2-3 0-0 5, Crowder 2-7 0-2 5, Green 3-8 1-1 7, Osman 2-3 0-0 4, Frye 0-4 2-2 2, Zizic 0-2 1-2 1, Calderon 0-1 0-0 0, Korver 3-5 0-0 8, Wade 7-12 0-1 15. Totals 36-78 17-23 101.
NEW ORLEANS (123): Cunningham 1-2 0-2 2, Davis 11-22 6-6 30, Cousins 11-20 5-5 29, Holiday 12-17 1-1 29, Moore 10-13 0-0 24, Miller 0-3 0-0 0, Jo.Smith 1-1 0-0 2, Diallo 0-1 0-0 0, Nelson 0-1 0-0 0, Allen 1-2 0-2 2, Jones 0-1 0-0 0, Clark 1-5 0-0 3, Cooke 1-4 0-0 2. Totals 49-92 12-16 123.
Cleveland 22 30 31 18 — 101
New Orleans 35 30 24 34 — 123
3-Point Goals—Cleveland 12-32 (Love 5-6, Korver 2-4, Shumpert 1-2, Wade 1-2, James 1-3, JR Smith 1-3, Crowder 1-5, Osman 0-1, Green 0-3, Frye 0-3), New Orleans 13-31 (Moore 4-5, Holiday 4-6, Davis 2-4, Cousins 2-6, Clark 1-3, Cunningham 0-1, Allen 0-1, Nelson 0-1, Miller 0-2, Cooke 0-2). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Cleveland 37 (Love 11), New Orleans 45 (Davis 14). Assists—Cleveland 20 (James 9), New Orleans 33 (Cousins 10). Total Fouls—Cleveland 19, New Orleans 20. Technicals—Thompson, Cousins. A—18,539 (16,867).