CLEVELAND — Part of the reason the Cleveland Cavaliers were so eager to acquire center Timofey Mozgov became evident throughout Wednesday night’s loss to the Houston Rockets.
As Rockets coach Kevin McHale implored his team to begin rebounding, center Dwight Howard was listening and the Cavs were powerless to stop him. Howard had 17 points and a season-high 19 rebounds, guard James Harden had 21 points, nine assists and seven rebounds, and Houston pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 105-93 victory.
The Cavs acquired the massive 7-foot-1 Mozgov from the Denver Nuggets during the game in exchange for two first-round picks, but he wasn’t around to slow Howard, who had nine points and eight rebounds in the fourth quarter while the Rockets were outscoring the Cavs 32-19.
“The whole game changed when Dwight got every rebound,” McHale said. “They were beating us up on the boards. We were complaining a lot in the huddle about us being better on the boards. He probably took it to heart.”
Cavs point guard Kyrie Irving returned from missing one game with a sore back to score a season-high 38 points, but he made just 1 of 6 shots from the field in the fourth quarter.
“I think he probably ran out of gas,” said Howard, who didn’t recall McHale mentioning rebounds in huddles. “(Irving) is a terrific scorer. He’s tough to handle in pick-and-roll situations. He’s probably the hardest person I’ve had to guard coming out of the pick-and-roll. He’s so tricky with the ball.”
The Cavs are reeling, having dropped seven of their last nine. They’re now clinging to the fifth seed in the East, just a half-game ahead of the surprising Milwaukee Bucks. They’re hopeful Mozgov can join them in San Francisco for the start of a grueling West Coast trip that opens Friday at the Golden State Warriors.
Mozgov has history with Cavs coach David Blatt, who coached him on the Russian national team during the London Olympics. The Cavs have been trying to acquire Mozgov since last summer and those efforts only intensified when starting center Anderson Varejao was lost for the season last month to a torn Achilles.
The Cavs acquired guards J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert in a three-team trade earlier this week, then used one of the picks they obtained in that trade to land Mozgov. Cavs general manager David Griffin conceded the price was high for a center averaging 8.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game this season.
“Timofey fits. His numbers didn’t need to be flashy,” Griffin said. “We’ve got three guys that are top 20 players in the NBA. They can be flashy. We need guys to do the dirty work.”
Shumpert will miss another two weeks while he continues to recover from a dislocated shoulder, and Smith went scoreless in his debut and missed all five of his shots from the field. He did not practice with the team or even participate in Wednesday morning’s walkthrough.
“Playing in a different offense (in New York) for 36 games, I wasn’t really allowed to do what I normally do and I’m trying to get back to that,” Smith said. “I don’t think it’ll be that long.”
Cavs forward Kevin Love had 17 points and 16 rebounds and center Tristan Thompson scored 11 points.
The Rockets took the lead for good on a rebound and dunk from Howard with 9:57 left and gradually built on it the rest of the night. Josh Smith scored 16 points off the bench and forward Trevor Ariza added 13 points.
“They put two on the basketball. I got off the ball early and somebody else made a play,” Harden said. “Guys did a great job of that all night. We knocked down some shots and Dwight got a lot of open dunks. We were just rolling.”
NOTES: Cleveland F LeBron James said he hasn’t touched a basketball in a week and is rehabbing his knee and back injuries three to four times a day. He hopes to play at some point on the Cavaliers’ upcoming West Coast trip. … The Cavs waived G A.J. Price, bringing their roster to 14. Price was on a non-guaranteed contract, and all contracts become guaranteed on Saturday. … The Rockets haven’t had much practice time since adding F Josh Smith and G Corey Brewer, so coach Kevin McHale is cautious in what he is asking them to do. “Trying to get them to digest this before we give them another meal,” McHale said. … Smith is aware the Detroit Pistons are 6-0 since releasing him. “They’re doing good,” he told the Houston Chronicle, “but right now, my focus is on what can we do in this month ahead.”
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