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Two for One: Cavs lose, but hang tough, vs. Clippers

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It’s a loss, but one of the Cavs can feel ok about.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Cleveland Cavaliers Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The Cavs lost 110-108 to the Clippers on Friday after leading by as many as 15 points. That’s not something the team will feel good about. But the Cavs also would not have hung tough and been a Jordan Clarkson shot rolling in away from winning against a playoff team from a better conference earlier this season. That’s progress.

POSITIVE: The Cavs offensive when it moved the ball

When the Cavs offense stagnated against the Clippers, it was when the ball stuck and they attacked in isolation. At times, this was because the Clippers — a solid, but not great, defensive team — were playing really good defense and giving the Cavs no other choice. But other times, the Cavs just settled into bad three-pointers or rushed drives into the lane.

But when Cleveland moved the ball, it looked good and the team scored. Here’s a prime example of that. Jordan Clarkson, king of the bad isolation shot attempt, here pushes the ball and runs a quick pick-and-roll with Larry Nance Jr. When Montrezl Harrell and Patrick Beverly focused on Clarkson, he made a perfect bounce pass and Nance wrecked the rim:

More of this from the Cavs — and more consistently — and they can finish the year with a functional-looking offense. By the way: the Cavs’ offensive is 14th in the league in March and the team finished Friday’s game right around that mark.

NEGATIVE: Collin Sexton’s defensive struggles

There were some excellent offensive moments from Sexton in this game. He showed off his speed, made some tough floaters over Montrezl Harrell and finished with 20 points again. This wasn’t a bad performance.

But Sexton also struggled on defense in this game against two players in particular: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Lou Williams. Both Gilgeous-Alexander and Williams are shifty and patient with the ball — the exact opposite of Sexton, a twitchy, reactive defender and a player who always seems to be moving.

Case in point:

Sexton finished this game with five fouls, keeping him on the bench for a large chunk of the fourth quarter when he normally would have been on the floor and part of a Cavs team that didn’t go away without clawing its way back into the game.

Sexton doesn’t profile as a calm defender — it he’s going to make an impact on that end of the floor, it’s going to be because he gambles at the right times and uses his tenacity to his advantage. He just has to be smarter about it and not get baited into avoidable fouls that keep on the bench in the fourth quarter of close game.

POSITIVE: Larry Nance Jr. looked pretty, pretty good

Larry Nance Jr. will likely wake up sore tomorrow after taking a few shots to his bruised ribs. But he’ll also wake up having looked a lot like the player he was before some injuries derailed his season.

Nance’s stat line is almost exactly what the Cavs want from him on a night-to-night basis: 6-9 from the field for 14 points, 1-2 on three-pointers, nine rebounds (five on the offensive end), one assist and three steals. On his best night, he’s probably getting more assists than one. But this was otherwise a perfect game. And when Nance plays like this, he can be conduit on a roster that is lacking defending, shooting and/or passing depending whose on the floor.

Plus, watching Nance dunk is really fun and it’s neat that he can put the ball on the floor to set up his dunks: