CLEVELAND (AP) — The criticism quieted. The problems persist.
LeBron James and the NBA champions are a mess right now.
Arron Afflalo dropped a 3-pointer with 17.3 seconds left in overtime as the Sacramento Kings rallied for 116-112 win Wednesday night over the slumping Cleveland Cavaliers, who lost for the sixth time in eight games and are dealing with a major distraction after James challenged the team’s commitment to winning and demanded roster changes.
Following the latest troubling loss, James quickly dressed and answered a handful of questions before heading home.
“We gotta get better,” he said. “That’s all.”
James recorded his second straight triple-double, finishing with 24 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists. Kevin Love had 21 points and 16 rebounds and Kyrie Irving scored 20, but it wasn’t enough as the Cavs didn’t play with poise down the stretch and missed 17 of 34 free throws.
DeMarcus Cousins had 28 points and 10 rebounds for the Kings, who trailed by five with 2:30 in overtime before battling back. Darren Collison added 23 points for Sacramento, which also trailed by 10 in the fourth quarter.
“Never a doubt,” Kings coach Dave Joerger said with a laugh.
Things weren’t so funny down the hall in Cleveland’s locker room. James, who typically takes up to an hour to get showered and dressed, was already packing some belongings and a late-night, take-home meal into a bag when the media was allowed to enter.
James wore a “Klutch Or Nowhere” shirt, a nod to business partner Rich Paul’s sports management group, and a baseball cap for “Uninterrupted,” his sports multimedia site. He wasn’t in a talkative mood after the Cavs let a win slip away on their home floor and fell to 5-7 in January.
Earlier in the day, James met with his teammates, coach Tyronn Lue and general manager David Griffin to discuss the biting remarks he made following a loss on Monday at New Orleans. Griffin was most upset with the superstar’s assertion that the Cavs appeared satisfied with one title.
“It was the most misguided comment that came out of any of this,” Griffin said.
While Griffin said he was pleased with the meeting, James refused to characterize the talk.
“I’m just trying to win ballgames,” James said. “That’s all that matters.”
After Afflalo’s 3, James missed a deep 3-point attempt for the Cavs, who were then forced to foul Cousins. Sacramento’s big man made one of two to put it away.
Sacramento had lost eight of 10 coming in and is on an eight-game road trip. The Kings have won back-to-back games for the first time since winning four in a row in December.
“This is our first complete full game of the season,” Cousins said. “Anybody who stepped on the floor played some type of part in this win. We battled. We took some hits, but we came back on our own. “
Griffin would not comment on a report the New York Knicks called the Cavs about a deal involving Love for Carmelo Anthony, one of James’ closest friends.
“I have no reaction,” James said when asked about the proposed trade. “We got 14 guys in here. We need to be ready every night. Who we got in here we gotta play. We can’t play fantasy basketball. We got who we got and we gotta go out and play.”
Kings: Cousins has recorded 10 straight double-doubles. .... Sacramento’s grueling trip includes three back-to-backs, putting a heavy physical strain on the players. Joerger said it’s a challenge to keep the Kings fresh. “We try to break it up a little bit, try to do something different at practice,” he said. “Keep guys loose, keep guys fresh, not wear them out. It comes around and goes around. Sometimes you are the beneficiary. We all think we’re getting the wrong end of it, but it does come around. We’re OK.” ... F Omri Casspi missed his sixth straight game with a strained tendon in his right foot. Joerger doesn’t know how long Casspi will be out.
Cavaliers: Griffin said it’s possible he won’t make any moves before next month’s trade deadline. “We have enough on this team to win a championship,” Lue said before the game. “We can get better. I know Griff is going to make us better and he’s going to do the best he can.” ... Drama is nothing new to the Cavs, who have resembled a soap opera at times. “It’s hard for me to tell you we’re dealing with a lot of adversity when we’re No. 1 in the East,” Griffin said. “But we have a tendency to be our best when our backs are against the wall, so I have no reason to believe that won’t be true now.” ... F Richard Jefferson was excused for the birth of a child.
Kings: Continue their eight-game road trip Friday at Indiana.
Cavaliers: Host Brooklyn on Friday before welcoming Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday.