CLEVELAND — If the Cleveland Cavaliers were to hit the rewind button in their search for better days, they would look back to their first meeting this season with the Milwaukee Bucks.
Way, way back, to Oct. 20, in game two of what has become a really, really long first month for the defending Eastern Conference champs.
The Cavaliers won 116-97 in Milwaukee to go to 2-0, and they looked to the world as though they would live to up to lofty expectations.
Cleveland lost six of the next eight, including an inexplicable 117-115 home defeat Sunday to a depleted Atlanta Hawks team. The Cavaliers hope to start turning things around Tuesday when they host the Bucks.
Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. on FOX Sports Ohio
The Cavs (4-6) have lost four of six at home, including blowout setbacks to Orlando, New York and Indiana. After facing Milwaukee, Cleveland heads out on a four-game road trip.
“I think guys are embarrassed, and we should be embarrassed of how we’re getting beat,” Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said after his team trailed by as many as 16 points against Atlanta. “Teams that we’re playing, having guys out, key guys out and (us) still not being able to win. We all have to continue to keep searching and continue to keep fighting and continue to play hard.”
The Bucks (4-5) aren’t doing much better. They have lost three straight, including a 105-96 defeat in Detroit on Friday.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is not only Milwaukee’s biggest bright spot, but perhaps a front-runner to be the NBA’s MVP this season. The 22-year-old, 6-foot-11 “Greek Freak” is leading the league in scoring at 31.0 points per game, and he has scored at least 28 in eight of the Bucks’ nine games.
Antetokounmpo went for 34 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists against the Cavs.
Milwaukee is missing center Greg Monroe, who has been out the past four games with a left calf strain.
“We miss, for one, his toughness, his ability to score the ball, pass the ball and then help us rebound the ball,” Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. “We definitely miss him.”
Monroe is 6-foot-11, and his absence could help Cleveland’s Kevin Love regain his rhythm. Love is back at center after a calf strain two games ago forced Tristan Thompson out of the lineup for a month.
Last month, Monroe was involved in a play against the Cavs that proved to be an early turning point in the wrong direction. Early in the fourth quarter, Derrick Rose was hit in mid-air on the way to the hoop by Monroe around the neck.
Rose fell to the court and sprained his left ankle, causing him to miss the next four games. Rose’s injury started a domino effect that has led to Lue using six starting lineups already this season.
“We just have to try to find a way,” Cavs forward LeBron James. “We’ve had guys in and out and different lineups, but the energy and effort from everybody. We don’t want to single anyone out, but everyone has to step up their play for us to be as good as we’d like to be.”
James is third in the NBA in scoring at 28.8 points per game, and he is shooting a career-high 60.8 percent from the field.
On Sunday, Dwyane Wade (25 points) and Kyle Korver (23 points) became the first Cavs duo to score at least 23 points off the bench since February 2002, but Lue said he had no immediate plans to change his starting lineup.