"King-less" Cavs target bright finish to dark NBA year

By Steve Keating

TORONTO (Reuters) - A year ago, the Cleveland Cavaliers had the best record in the NBA, the league's best player in LeBron James and were a red-hot championship tip.

This season they own the NBA's worst record, James has skipped town for the Miami Heat and championship dreams have long since crumbled to dust.

They have been replaced by far more modest goals, Wednesday's 104-96 victory over the Toronto Raptors earning the Cavs their first back-to-back wins in five months.

"I would have hoped it would have happened a lot sooner," Cavaliers coach Byron Scott told reporters, admitting he could not remember Cleveland's last two-game 'win streak'.

"I do remember New Jersey was involved in it but I can't remember anything else. That shows you how long it's been."

The future did not appear so bleak back in October when the Cavs began the post-James era with a season-opening win over the Boston Celtics.

Three losses were then followed up with three straight victories in early November over Philadelphia, Washington and New Jersey.

However, there would be precious little to celebrate the rest of season as the losses racked up alarmingly, including a record-smashing 26-game losing skid that set new standards for sporting failure.

Among North America's four major professional sports leagues there has never been a longer run of futility.

The Cleveland Spiders set baseball's longest slide with 24 consecutive losses in 1899 but the Philadelphia Phillies set the modern day mark with 23 straight defeats in 1961.

The Washington Capitals and San Jose Sharks share the NHL's longest skid when they lost 17 straight games in the 1974-75 and 1992-93 seasons respectively.

In the NFL, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, like the Cavaliers, endured their own shameful 26-game slump over two seasons from 1976-77.

If anyone can feel Cleveland's pain, it is Raptors fans similarly jilted when the face of their franchise, Chris Bosh, decided to join James in Miami.

While Bosh's departure also sent the Raptors into a tailspin, it could not match the harrowing plunge by the Cavs, who won 61 games last year led by 'King James.'

The Cavaliers (17-61) arrived in Toronto on Wednesday having already been assured of last place in the East, the consolation a shot at the top selection in this year's NBA draft.

The last time Cleveland had the number one overall pick they used it to grab James but this time around there is no consensus choice, no super-talent capable of instantly transforming the woeful Cavaliers into championship contenders.

The Cavaliers instead will continue a painful rebuild next season but will try to springboard into a new year on a winning note.

"It (winning) is great for our confidence. We still have a very young basketball team that is forming an identity basketball wise and I think we're starting to do that," said Scott.

"It gives us something positive going into next season but we have four games left and we're going to play like we did tonight."

(Editing by Alastair Himmer)