CLEVELAND - All the 76ers needed was a basket or two foul shots in the final 3 minutes, 57 seconds.

That might have avoided the disappointment in the locker room Sunday after an 87-86 setback to the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena.

Instead the Sixers (18-56) and Cavaliers (48-27) partook in an atrocious ending to a basketball game.

Cleveland went scoreless after Timofey Mozgov scored on a putback to give it an 87-83 cushion with 4:04 remaining. Robert Covington responded with a three-pointer to close the score to one point seven seconds later.

From there, the Cavaliers went on to miss their final six shots. The Sixers, meanwhile, missed their four foul shots and five field goals.

Folks may point to Nerlens Noel's missing a seven-foot jump shot with 2.8 seconds left as the killer for the Sixers.

After Ish Smith grabbed a defensive rebound with 8.5 seconds left, the Sixers called a 20-second timeout.

They drew up a play for Noel to go one-on-one against Tristan Thompson. Thompson grabbed the defensive rebound with a second left.

"I had a pretty good look," said Noel, who started at power forward instead of center. "I think it went in and out or something. I thought [the play] resulted in a good look. I just didn't make the shot."

The Sixers fumbled several scoring opportunities before Noel's miscue ultimately sealed their fate.

Covington, an 80 percent foul shooter, has been money at the line all season for the Sixers. However, he missed a pair with 1:07 left.

Then Smith missed a wide open three-pointer with 28.9 seconds remaining.

"It was probably one of the ugliest games I've ever been in in this arena," Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving said during his postgame on-court interview. ". . . Whew! That was terrible."

The Sixers mixed things up a little bit in this game.

Noel was moved to power forward in preparation for his being paired next season with 7-foot center Joel Embiid. Furkan Aldemir started at center while Jerami Grant got the nod at small forward to defend LeBron James.

Embiid was impressive working on one-one-one post moves with Sixers staff member Curtis Sumpter before the start of the game. The former Kansas star showed power combined with a soft shooting touch.

Aldemir played well, scoring a career-high 11 points on 5-for-6 shooting to go with 10 rebounds in 26:33. The rookie from Turkey did not play in the fourth quarter as Noel took over the center duties.

A 6-foot-11, 223-pounder, Noel will start and play mostly at power forward in the remaining eight games. He finished with eight points, 11 rebounds, three assists, two steals and zero blocks. Noel came into the contest ranked sixth in the NBA in blocked shots (1.97 per game).

Sixers coach Brett Brown acknowledged that Noel's shot-blocking numbers will take a hit because of the position switch. The former Kentucky standout had defensive miscues that led to three made three-pointers on Sunday. But . . .

"You always step back and say if this season ended now, what would you regret?' " Brown said. "That would be one of my regrets, not [having Noel play forward] more than I have."

Noel welcomes the position switch and says he wants to remain at power forward.

"Knowing that this is the future as I continue to grow my game, I think that will be a good position for me," he said.

Covington led the Sixers with 19 points. James led all scorers with 20 points and added 11 rebounds.

Cleveland power forward Kevin Love (10 points, 10 rebounds) left the game with 6:58 after being elbowed in the back.