Cavaliers-Kings Preview

It might seem difficult to fathom that a team currently sitting atop the Eastern Conference after appearing in last season's NBA Finals is "still learning," but that's exactly how LeBron James describes the Cleveland Cavaliers.

DeMarcus Cousins certainly envies that position, though, as his stellar efforts have done little to help the Sacramento Kings' dimming playoff hopes lately.

Cleveland begins a four-game trip that features three teams outside of the playoff picture when it visits Sacramento on Wednesday night.

The Cavs (44-18) took a three-game winning streak into Tuesday's home matchup with Memphis, which revealed shortly before tipoff it would be resting four starters. Cleveland failed to take advantage and trailed for most of the game in a surprising 106-103 loss to a team that dressed only eight players.

James scored 28 points and Kyrie Irving finished with 27, but they combined for 11 of the Cavs' season-high 25 turnovers that lead to 30 points for Memphis.

"I don't care who you are playing, if it's my son's little league team you're going to lose when you give up that many points off turnovers," James said. "We were very careless with our mindset - and with the ball."

Playoff time is when the Cavs again hope to shine after James led a team playing mostly without Kevin Love and Irving to last year's Finals in his first season back with his hometown club.

They have a two-game lead on Toronto for the top spot in the East and have fought through plenty of adversity, including rumors of discord in the locker room and a coaching change when Tyronn Lue replaced David Blatt on Jan. 22. Still, James knows every game won't go their way.

"We're a team that's still learning, man," James said. "We got some young guys and a group that's been together for a little over a year. It's another learning experience for us."

The Cavs will see mostly non-playoff teams on their trip as they face Sacramento (25-37) and the West-worst Los Angeles Lakers, followed by the Clippers and Utah, which is ninth in the West.

The Kings are 5 1/2 games back of Houston for the final playoff spot but haven't helped their cause lately by dropping six of their last seven. Even Cousins putting up his usual monster numbers hasn't helped.

Cousins finished with 40 points - the 23rd time he's hit at least 30 - and 16 rebounds Tuesday, but Sacramento blew a 17-point lead in the second half of a 115-112 loss at New Orleans.

Rajon Rondo had 18 points, 10 assists and matched Cousins with five turnovers.

The Kings finished with 25 giveaways and rank near the bottom of the league by turning the ball over on 14.6 percent of their possessions.

"Playing defense, taking smart shots, good shots, sharing the ball - that's what got us into the lead and that's what we got way from," Cousins said. "(Turnovers have) been killing us all year. It's going to continue to be a problem if we don't fix it."

Rondo had six turnovers and Cousins finished with 14 points - 13.3 below his average - while shooting 5 of 14 in a 120-100 loss to Cleveland on Feb. 8.

James had 21 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists for his only triple-double of the season to help Cleveland win for the 10th time in 11 matchups when he's wearing a Cavs uniform.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.