Despite a four-game losing streak, the Cleveland Cavaliers believe they can still close the gap and make the postseason.


CLEVELAND -- The Cleveland Cavaliers have 18 regular-season games left to play, and every one of them will be a "must win" because they trail the Atlanta Hawks by four games for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

As the Cavaliers head out on a three-game West Coast trip, which starts tonight against the Phoenix Suns, coach Mike Brown believes they have enough time to close the gap and get into the postseason if the players give consistent effort.

"I always believe we have a chance because we have guys in that locker room that are capable," Brown said. "That, and the fact that we've done it. Our biggest thing that we're battling with is our inconsistency.

"We go through stretches where I'm like, 'Oh, we've got a chance to be a pretty good team,' and then, all of a sudden, the stuff that we had success with, we kind of go away from. We don't understand that it's hard every night to be here.

"It's hard every day to be here in practice and we don't have a ton of room for error, but the group that we have, at times, we do slip. When we do slip, it takes us a while to get out of what we're trying to do. That consistency thing, in terms of execution, on both ends of the floor is big."

Forward Anderson Varejao returned to the lineup during Saturday's 107-97 loss to the New York Knicks at Quicken Loans Arena, and said it is "up to us" to "compete the right way."

"If we compete the right way, if we play the right way, we've got a chance," Varejao said. "I still believe it. We have to play hard for 48 minutes. We've had a lot of ups and downs, especially on defense, and they're not allowing us to win those games. We have to get better at that.

"If we get everything together on defense and offense, we've got a chance. We've proved that during the season. We've beaten some good teams on the road, and I know we can do it. It's just a matter of us coming out with the right mindset and doing it."

Veteran guard Jarrett Jack added, "At this point in the season, it's a little rough knowing you have to play well so you don't have to need other people not to play well. That's the position that we're in. It definitely starts now. At any moment's notice, we've got to be hitting the urgency button every, single possession."

According to the players, they are well aware of what is at stake during the next six weeks. And they believe the key to having success is by getting back to the basics of basketball.

"I just feel like we need to go back to playing freely and just enjoy the game out there," said point guard Kyrie Irving. "There are points in the game where we make mistakes and put our heads down, but in this game, we've just got to keep moving forward, including myself, as a leader of this team.

"I've just got to relieve some of that pressure by going out there, playing free and having fun with the game. A couple weeks ago, we were on a great streak, but we've hit a hole. Right now, it's not the perfect time to be in one, but at this point, we've just got to pick ourselves up and go out there fighting.

"We've just got to keep trusting in one another and believing in this. I believe in all of them, and I know they believe in me just as much as possible. We've got to do that every, single game. We've got a big road trip coming up against some great teams and it'll be a great test for us. I know we're all looking forward to it. We all know what's at stake, but we've got to go out there, have fun and enjoy the game."

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