From Comcast SportsNetCLEVELAND (AP) -- There had to be a low point. The Los Angeles Lakers can only hope they've reached it.This chaotic season has gotten worse.Kyrie Irving scored 28 points in his return after missing 11 games with a broken finger, leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 100-94 win over Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, who look nothing like a team projected to win an NBA title -- or anything else."This is one of the most challenging stretches of my 17 years, and the most baffling, too," a puzzled Bryant said after the Lakers lost for the eighth time in 11 games. "We have the talent and personnel to do it, but we're not, and it's baffling. It's extremely frustrating."It doesn't make any sense. We're still finding ways to lose games."Irving added 11 assists in 39 minutes and showed off his dizzying array of moves as the Cavs, who came in with just four wins, ended a five-game losing streak.Bryant scored 42 points and Dwight Howard had 19 points and 20 rebounds, but it wasn't enough to stop the Lakers, who were still missing Pau Gasol and Steve Nash, from opening a four-game road trip with a with a loss that could sting for a while."We have to stop the bleeding -- somehow," said Howard, who forced a trade this summer from Orlando to join the Lakers and maybe win some championships. "We can't let this kill our spirits too much. This is tough on all of us right now."We want to win. We're sick of losing. We all understand that situations like this don't last forever."C.J. Miles scored 28 in his first start this season, Anderson Varejao had 20 and Alonzo Gee 17 for the Cavs.Los Angeles fell behind by 16 points in the third quarter, and despite Bryant's valiant attempt to rescue them -- he scored 16 in the fourth quarter -- the Lakers dropped to 1-10 in games the superstar scores 30 or more points."We played very uninspired basketball, offensively and defensively," said coach Mike D'Antoni, brought in to repair an underachieving squad after Mike Brown was fired five games into the season. "We play at a very slow pace and we struggle. Maybe it shifts over to defense. Maybe we're slow. Maybe we can't do it. . It's my job to fix it -- and that's what I'll do."As the final seconds ticked off, Bryant stood at halfcourt, his right hand resting on his hip, a look of disgust on his face. When the horn sounded, he handed the ball to an official and shared a brief hug with Irving and a long one with Cavs coach Byron Scott, who whispered something in his ear.The Lakers have nowhere to go but up.Bryant refused to single out any teammates, and he chose his words carefully when pressed on his team's many problems."I'm very upset," Bryant said. "When things get hard, you should get more determined, not shake your heads. It just seems when it rains it pours. It's like this cloud is following us around at all times. I'm one of the fastest guys on the team -- and I'm like 50. What does that tell you?"Before the game, D'Antoni bemoaned his team's defense and said the Lakers seemed to be missing a "spirit" to win.Those aren't their only deficiencies.Howard scored inside to get the Lakers within 86-82, but Irving answered with a 3-pointer. Metta World Peace hit a 3 to bring Los Angeles within 89-85, but on Cleveland's next possession, the Lakers lost track of Cavs center Anderson Varejao, who scored an uncontested layup as all five Los Angeles players watched.Bryant hit a 3-pointer to trim Cleveland's lead to 95-92 with 28 seconds left, but he missed another 3-point attempt on the Lakers' next trip and there was nothing he or anyone else in purple and gold could do from there.Howard is confident the Lakers will be able to turn their season around.He just doesn't know when."We've got to stay focused and stay strong," he said. "We can't let this break who we are as a team. We talk about it every day. People are going to say whatever they want about our team right now. We're not playing the greatest basketball. But there will come a day when we'll have the gun. Right now, we're rabbits. Once we get the gun, it's not going to be fun for everybody else."The Cavs went 2-9 without Irving, their sensational 20-year-old. But with him on the floor, Cleveland is a far different team and on this night better than the Lakers.Cleveland was ahead by 12 when Irving tried to take Bryant on by himself.Dribbling the ball between his legs at the top of the key, Cleveland's star backed Bryant down in the lane as the crowd roared at a 1-on-1 matchup Irving proposed during the summer for charity. Irving tried a pump fake that didn't work and Bryant easily blocked his shot as if to say, "Not yet, kid.""It reminded me when Allen Iverson was going against Michael Jordan," Irving said. "The whole crowd sat up. I got my shot blocked, but it was still a memorable moment for me, seeing the crowd reaction. I was surprised by it."Scott wasn't shocked that Irving would play so well."He's likes being put in the position of having to deliver," Scott said. "He's just a special young man. He loves the competition."NOTES:Bryant didn't know if Irving was "confident or crazy" when Irving challenged him to a 1-on-1 game during U.S. Olympic team practices. Irving didn't back down when Bryant unleashed some heavy trash talk on the 20-year-old. "I'm the best trash talker alive," Bryant said. "He tried to keep up. Hopefully, you'll see a little more of that (trash talk) from that generation, guys competing against each other. It was like that when I came into the league with Charles (Barkley) and Michael (Jordan) and (John) Stockton and (Clyde) Drexler and all those guys. That's how it was." ... Cavs G Daniel Gibson hyperextended his right elbow in the first half and didn't return. He expects to play Wednesday at Indiana.
Here are some of Sunday's top stories in Chicago sports:
NEW ORLEANS — Every All-Star isn’t created equal, even by the slimmest of margins as the best 24 NBA players take their turn on the midseason stage.
So Jimmy Butler being announced among the first five as an All-Star starter had to represent some form of validation, now that he’s not a novice at the whole experience and he’s able to go through the motions of the hectic weekend without breaking much of a sweat.
But despite being a three-time All-Star and routinely mentioned as one of the game’s top 15 players or even top 10, he can’t shake the trade rumors that have seemed to follow him since this time last season.
As he finished up his All-Star experience at Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, clarity was nowhere to be found—although heading to some tropical island for a couple days to actually unwind with clear water and warm air seemed to be the best therapy if he’s stressed by the uncertainty of the next few days.
“What’s Thursday? Oh, trade deadline,” Butler said. “I don’t know. I don’t know. Am I anxious? Come on, man. I don’t worry about it. It don’t bother or scare me none.”
“Hopefully I’m not going to get traded but I don’t know. I don’t control that. Control what I can control, like going on vacation.”
Surely it has to be frustrating for a guy who’s elevated his game yet again, averaging 24.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.8 steals for the Bulls in 51 games. But he refuses to let it damper his All-Star spirits, playing with some of the best players in the world and a few guys he calls friends, like DeAndre Jordan and Kevin Durant.
“Not for me,” said Butler of the potential stress. “Not saying I’m untradeable but I don’t think about that. If I’m not in a Bulls uniform, I’ll give you a hug and say goodbye to you.”
Moments after Butler made his statement in the media room, the floodgates opened for the trade market as fellow Olympian DeMarcus Cousins was traded from the Sacramento Kings to the New Orleans Pelicans for what seemed to be mere fodder, pennies on the dollar for the most talented center in the NBA.
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While Cousins is far more of a handful than Butler could be, the trade almost signals a consistent truth that always bears repeating—that short of a select few, anybody can be traded.
Even a franchise altering talent like Cousins, who was traded to the city he was physically in for All-Star weekend, and included in the package of players was a guy who hit him in the groin last week (Buddy Hield), resulting in a Cousins outburst and ejection.
Butler has made his name with the Bulls, although not necessarily on the All-Star stage, a player who values defense and doesn’t have as much flash as some of the game’s shinier players.
With a six-point outing in 20 minutes, Butler was an on-court afterthought despite being a starter for the first time.
“Six? Should’ve gone for eight,” he sarcastically deadpanned.
In a relatively jovial mood through the weekend, Butler joked about the talk surrounding him and tried to brush it off as mere chatter as opposed to the franchise not seeing enough in him to make a firm commitment for the long-term, as the Boston Celtics are always hovering.
League sources expect the Celtics to engage the Bulls in conversations for the next few days, but nobody has a great feel for what either side is truly looking for.
But as Butler insisted, he’s only controlling what he can control, which is making himself a fixture for All-Star games to come as opposed to some of the first-timers who don’t know if they’ll get back here again.
“I think I got two underneath my belt,” Butler said. “I know what they’re feeling the first time, It’s so surreal like maybe I do belong here. That’s how I was thinking. Now it’s how do I get here every year? I think that’s the fun part, that’s the challenge. A lot of those guys have done it 10-plus years, hopefully I’m one.”
The only question seems to be, which uniform will it be in because the crazy season has begun.