MILWAUKEE — The Cleveland Cavaliers lost their fifth straight game Wednesday night, a 113-98 loss to a shorthanded Milwaukee Bucks team missing at least five rotation players.
The losing slide follows an eight-game hitting streak for the Cavs, who started the season 8-1 and looked like contenders in the Eastern Conference. However, after Wednesday’s game, Cavs coach JB Bickerstaff questioned whether his team had developed a “fat cat mentality” after such a quick start and believed that winning would be easy for them.
“We have kind of a fat cat mentality. We went out and won eight games in a row, everyone gave us love and praise, and we felt really comfortable,” said Bickerstaff. “We’re the team that won those eight games; we’re a really good basketball team. It’s about maturation and growth of a team as a whole.”
Bickerstaff said he began to notice a shift in his team’s effort and mindset during their recent trip to the West Coast, which included fourth-quarter meltdowns against the LA Clippers and Golden State Warriors and a loss to the Sacramento Kings. Despite his criticisms, Bickerstaff reiterated Wednesday that he still believed in the Cavs’ roster, even as he was looking for ways to get them back to game-winning basketball.
“These five games don’t emulate who we are, who we’ve been,” said Cavs star Donovan Mitchell, who finished Wednesday with 23 points, 16 of them in the first quarter. “As I said before when we were winning: it’s early. There will be trials and tribulations, they will be positive and negative, and right now we are in a negative situation. There is nothing to overreact to. The most important thing is that we must understand that every evening we will have to carry it with us.”
Mitchell added: “We’ve won eight in a row. “Phenomenal. We just have to go out there and do it. It’s a long season. It’s nothing to sit here, and the sky is falling and whatever… It’s November, we’ve played a lot of good teams.”
The Cavs also played their last two games without center Jarrett Allen, who was sidelined with pain in his left ankle. Cleveland struggled defensively during this five-game losing streak, but its defensive woes were only magnified without the longtime All-Star in between.
The Cavs are giving up 122 points per 100 possessions during their five-game skid, according to NBA.com, by far the worst defensive rating in the league during that span.
“Basically our defense and our defensive effort, that’s what we’ve been focused on,” said Cavs fullback Evan Mobley. “Defensively we sometimes lack in some areas. Just do it. Simple as that. We know what we have to do, we’ve talked about it. We just have to go out there and do it.”
On Wednesday, the Cavs held star Giannis Antetokounmpo into a relatively quiet night on offense — 16 points on 6-of-18 shooting with 12 rebounds and eight assists — but allowed the Bucks to beat them from the outside.
Milwaukee converted 16 of its 39 (41%) 3-pointers, including seven 3s by Brook Lopez, who finished with 29 points, his highest-scoring game since the Orlando bubble in 2020. The Bucks scored 45 points on the bench, despite the absence of Khris Middleton , Jrue Holiday, Grayson Allen, Pat Connaughton and Wesley Matthews.
“Scoring will be whatever, that’s not really the issue, it’s really just our defense,” Mitchell said. “Yeah we were missing JA but the one thing the league teams – which we aspire to be – when the boys are out they all keep stepping up.
“You saw it tonight. They had four, five guys out and the guys kept coming forward. We’ve got a long way to go and there’s nothing to overreact to. We’ll be good, but you want to learn from wins, obviously, do not lose.”