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Published: Wednesday, 2/9/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

Cheer up, Cavs, losing streaks have been worse

BY DAVE HACKENBERG

The chuckle-out-loud moment of the Cleveland Cavaliers' record 25th straight loss Monday night wasn't their failure to get off a game-tying, 3-point shot attempt before the final horn.

It came early in the fourth quarter when 7-foot center Ryan Hollins lost a jump ball to Dallas' 6-foot-2 Jason Terry. A big guy with some leaping ability almost has to try to be that inept.

And that pretty much describes the Cavs, who have lost 35 of their last 36 games and haven't won since Dec. 18 of what happens to be the previous calendar year.

The NBA's longest losing streak prior to this was 24 games over two seasons by -- drum roll, please -- the Cleveland Cavaliers. That was 19 losses to end the 1981-82 season and five straight to start the '82-'83 season.

Just to prove losing was no fluke those Cavs celebrated the win that made them 1-5 by immediately running off another seven straight defeats.

Poor Cleveland. The Browns annually try, and mostly fail, to get it right. The Indians report to spring training any day now knowing that if they stay injury- free and everything falls perfectly they might finish fourth in the AL Central.

And the Cavs, well, what can we say? If LeBron James is Public Enemy No. 1, then owner Dan Gilbert can't be many numbers behind. The timing of LeBron's departure and subsequent injuries are complications, surely, but how did Gilbert let it come to this?

Still, real Cavs fans know these aren't the Dark Ages of pro basketball in Cleveland. Not even close. For that, travel back to those teams of the early 1980s and an owner named Ted Stepien.

Starting with the 1980-81 season, the Cavs produced a four-year stretch with 54, 67, 59, and 54 losses. Stepien once traded a first-round draft pick to the Lakers for a journeyman forward named Don Ford. The pick ended up being No. 1 in the draft and the Lakers took James Worthy, who could play a little.

Stepien traded away four first-round picks to Dallas and the Mavericks were still using them in 1986, a couple years after he sold the Cleveland franchise to the Gund brothers.

The great line from then-Mavs coach Dick Motta was that he hated to go to lunch for fear he'd miss a phone call from Stepien. To review, Dallas drafted Derek Harper, Sam Perkins, Detlef Schrempf and Roy Tarpley with picks acquired from the Cavaliers.

By the end, the NBA office insisted on approving all trades made by Stepien. They even made a rule, the Stepien Rule, prohibiting teams from trading first-round picks in consecutive years.

The NBA felt so bad for the Cavs that it gave the team an extra first-round selection in the '83 draft. Alas, Cleveland used it on point guard Stewart Granger, a Canadian who averaged 4.5 points in his lone season. A few picks later, Atlanta took a point guard named Doc Rivers. And so it went.

After those years in the wilderness the Cavs opened the 1984-85 season with nine straight losses and just two wins in their first 21 games.

And then the craziest thing happened. Behind the legendary shooter World B. Free, Cleveland caught fire and landed in the playoffs.

So you just never know when something will end and something will begin. The Cavs are improving, they're fighting, they're competing and soon they may get out of their own way.

The Pistons visit Wednesday night. Regardless, the draft lottery is ahead and Cleveland is the worst of the bad. In a perverse way, that's good.

At least Ted Stepien isn't around to trade the draft pick.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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