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Two for one: Collin Sexton’s 31 points not enough, Cavs lose to Pelicans 116-104

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Cleveland falls short on the first half of its back-to-baack.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at New Orleans Pelicans Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

On Friday in New Orleans, Collin Sexton tied a career-high with 31 points and set a new career-high with six three-pointers made. Not a whole lot else went right for the Cavs in aa 116-104 loss to the Pelicans.

More on Sexton

This was a look at what is so interesting about Sexton as a scorer. His three-point shot is very real — him shooting 11.1% on three-pointers in December like it never actually happened — and he’s using his speed smarter than he was earlier in the year. Notably, it’s resulting in him getting to the free throw line more. Case in point: Sexton took 10 free throws on Friday. His shot profile was overall a more efficient version of the mid-range heavy player he has historically been:

Were the 31 points enough to get the Cavs in this game fully? No, but that’s not on him — Sexton was the one Cavalier to have an actually good offensive performance on Friday. It’s aa little bit lost amid his struggles as a creator and the team’s overall drama, but Sexton is showing some real progress as a scorer in year two.

Bludgeoned in the paint

One major reason the Cavs lost on Friday: an inability to stop the Pelicans in the paint. Overall, New Orleans scored 72 points in the paint, including 26 in the first quarter alone.

To break it down further, the Pelicans took 56% of their shots at the rim, making 70.2% of them. The former number, per Cleaning The Glass, is at the high end of any team’s performances this year and the former number was in the 74th percentile. In short: the Cavs had no counter to this no matter who was on the floor. That’s a problem.

Learning on the job

For Kevin Porter Jr. and Darius Garland, there were some standout moments on Friday. But there were also moments where they were trying to do too much (i.e. when Garland missed open shooters and dribbled too much) or just missed a lot of open shots (in Porter’s case.)

Both are extremely young, so that’s fine. What’s notable is that J.B. Bickerstaff was willing to let them play through it and put them in spots to learn on the job. Maybe they aren’t successful reps, but they are reps nonetheless.

Up next

The Cavs are back tomorrow against the Pacers. Tipoff is at 8 p.m. in Cleveland.