CLEVELAND — LeBron James has been in this position before, but a number of his teammates haven’t. After a 97-84 win over the Philadelphia 76ers, combined with the Atlanta Hawks’ loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, the Cavaliers’ 11-game winning streak now makes them the hottest team in the league.
James, however, isn’t overly impressed.
“We haven’t done anything. We haven’t earned anything,” James said. “We haven’t played in a playoff series together — not one playoff game, not one playoff minute. That’s when it really counts.”
James had 18 points and 11 assists and reserve guard Matthew Dellavedova made two big 3-pointers to help the Cavaliers hold off the Sixers, who cut a 20-point deficit down to two points early in the fourth quarter. They were within five before Dellavedova sank a 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down, extending the Cavs’ lead to 91-83 with 2:30 left.
His 3-pointer in the final minute extended the lead to 96-83 and essentially ended the game. The Cavs spent most of the night unsuccessfully trying to shake a Sixers team that has dropped seven straight on the road, but is gaining the reputation as a team that plays hard and never quits.
“Never underestimate a win,” coach David Blatt said. “But you can learn a lot from wins that aren’t spectacular and certainly tonight was not spectacular.”
Rookie forward Jerami Grant scored a career-high 18 points off the bench and forward Robert Covington had 18 points for the Sixers.
“The game was going the wrong way against a bunch of really great players and we were able to bring it back to respectability and then be in the game. LeBron quarterbacked the gym and my Australian friend wasn’t a friend,” said Sixers coach Brett Brown, who coached Dellavedova a few years ago with the Australian national team.
Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving had 24 points, five rebounds and five assists, and forward Kevin Love grabbed 15 rebounds on a night he struggled with his shot and finished with just five points.
“That shouldn’t happen,” Blatt said of Love not getting a shot after the first quarter. “Absolutely shouldn’t happen.”
Love shot 1-for-7 and didn’t take a shot after the first quarter. He returned to the court after the game to get in another workout and didn’t retreat to the locker room until 30 minutes after the game ended.
James felt he gave Love a couple of good looks after the first quarter, but Love passed them up.
“For Kev I think his confidence maybe shooting the ball is a little down,” James said. “But for me as a player I give him good looks. I want him to shoot the ball and shoot it with confidence.”
Love denied that his confidence is down.
“I’m just doing what’s being asked of me,” Love said. “I’ve been doing that all year. I’m keeping my head up, keeping positive, glass half-full. I’m trying to impact the game in other ways as best I can.”
The Cavs, who have held their last nine opponents under 100 points, are enjoying their longest winning streak since taking 13 in a row during the 2009-10 season.
The Sixers lost guard Michael Carter-Williams, the reigning Rookie of the Year, to a shin injury. Carter-Williams scored a career-low two points in 20 minutes and didn’t play in the second half after injuring the shin Saturday in Atlanta.
“I wasn’t sure I was even going to play him,” Brown said. “It’s part of the NBA. There’s not anybody who’s healthy who plays in the NBA. To his credit, he said, ‘OK let’s do it.’ You could tell he was struggling and I decided enough was enough. It was affecting his game and his team.”
Brown wasn’t sure if Carter-Williams, who missed eight of his nine shots, would play Tuesday at home against the Denver Nuggets.
NOTES: Sixers coach Brett Brown has plenty of ties to the Cavaliers. He coached G Matthew Dellavedova with the Australian national team and he coached G Kyrie Irving’s father, Drederick, in Australia as well. “Drederick was a New York City playground scorer and could score at will,” Brown said. … The Sixers have used 12 undrafted players this season, a new record, according to Elias Sports Bureau. … Irving was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week, the second consecutive week a Cavs player has won the award. F LeBron James won it last week. … Since their winning streak began Jan. 15, the Cavs are sixth in the NBA in defensive field-goal percentage. They’re 27th overall.
Rockets spoil Griffin’s return in testy affair
If James Harden needed any extra motivation against the Los Angeles Clippers, he found it in the first half.
Harden scored 34 points, and the Rockets held on for a 100-98 victory over the Clippers in a sometimes testy affair on Sunday at Staples Center.
Point guard Chris Paul, who finished with 23 points, missed a contested shot at the buzzer that would have forced overtime.
“It was very important for us just to go out there and play well,” said Harden, who hit seven of 16 shots from the floor, three of five from 3-point range and 17 of 18 free throws. “The last two games we kind of struggled a little bit, but we got our pop back a little bit today, and it was a good win for us.”
Harden provided much of that pop, particularly in the second quarter after Clippers forward Matt Barnes was whistled for a flagrant-1 foul after pushing Harden to the court at 6:02. Harden scored 15 of his 18 points in the period after that, leading the Rockets to a 58-50 halftime lead.
Did the flagrant foul add more fuel for the Rockets’ All-Star guard and MVP candidate?
“Yeah. Things like that are fun,” said Harden, who had 24 points in the first half. “We have fun, we got boosted off of that.”
The win ended a two-game skid for the Rockets (44-22). Houston forward Trevor Ariza scored 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds, while forward Terrence Jones added 16 points and 12 boards.
“This was a win that we needed, especially on the road,” Ariza said. “Going into the home stretch, these are the types of games we have to win.”
Los Angeles forward Blake Griffin returned after missing 15 games due to surgery on his right elbow. Griffin had 11 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists, but committed five turnovers in 41 minutes.
“I didn’t think I played well,” said Griffin, who managed 4-of-10 shooting. “I was out of rhythm. Way too many turnovers, obviously.”
Barnes scored 19 points and guard J.J. Redick had 15 for the Clippers (42-24), who fell into a tie for the No. 5 spot in the Western Conference standings with the Dallas Mavericks.
Paul lamented a host of turnovers in the defeat, including a critical one involving center DeAndre Jordan.
“I had some bad turnovers,” said Paul, who committed three of the Clippers’ 20 miscues compared to 13 for the Rockets. “On one, I drove it off DeAndre’s foot, the other one I lost towards the end of the half. We have to take better care of the ball. We still had an opportunity to win, but we just didn’t do it.”
The Clippers came back from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit. Paul scored seven straight points, capping it with a 3-point basket to tie the score at 96 with 3:05 left in the game. Houston got a 3-pointer by Jones, but Barnes countered with a basket to keep Los Angeles within 99-98 with 1:35 left. Los Angeles, though, never scored again.
Griffin got a steal as Ariza attempted a pass to Harden, but Ariza drew a charging foul as Griffin bolted to the bucket with 12 seconds remaining. Griffin remained unhappy about the call after the game.
“If I speak on that, I’ll get fined,” Griffin said.
Harden hit one of two foul shots with 8.9 seconds left, capping the scoring before Paul failed to connect on a jumper in the lane with Ariza defending.
The Rockets outscored Los Angeles 36-20 in the second quarter despite making just 38.5 percent of their shots compared to 44.4 percent for the Clippers. Overall, the Clippers hit 43.9 percent to 37.2 percent for the Rockets. They also held an edge in 3-point shooting, converting 12 of 26 attempts to seven of 30 for Houston. The Rockets, though were 29 of 36 from the foul line to 14 of 24 for Los Angeles.
Jordan finished with 20 rebounds and four blocks.
NOTES: F Blake Griffin’s return benefits PG Chris Paul as much as any Clipper. “Teams have been able to trap (Paul) far more than they can when Blake is on the floor because of (Griffin’s) ability to pass,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “I’m sure CP is the happiest of all to have him back.” … Rivers isn’t sure if injured G Jamal Crawford would return before the playoffs. Crawford has missed six games with a right calf contusion. … Rockets C Dwight Howard sat out his 18th game with a right knee edema. “He’s doing everything he can, he’s trying to get better, but until you’re on the floor, it’s impossible to say,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said regarding Howard’s return. … Both clubs resume play Tuesday. Houston hosts the Orlando Magic, while Los Angeles plays the Charlotte Hornets at Staples Center.
Spurs’ Ginobili sprains ankle
SAN ANTONIO — Guard Manu Ginobili was helped off the floor late in the third quarter of the San Antonio Spurs’ game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday due to a sprained right ankle.
Ginobili went down with 43 seconds left in the quarter and with the Spurs leading the Timberwolves by 30 points. He was immediately was led to the locker room, and he did not put any weight on his right leg as he was carried off the court. He did not return to the game.
In 19 minutes during the Spurs’ 123-97 win over the Timberwolves, Ginobili scored 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting. He battled a stomach illness last week, forcing him to miss a game against the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday and leading him to play limited minutes against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday.
NBA notebook: Clippers’ Griffin cleared to return
Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin, out the last 15 games with an elbow injury, was cleared to return Sunday against the Houston Rockets.
Griffin had surgery five weeks ago to remove a staph infection in his right elbow.
“He said, ‘I’m ready,'” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said before Sunday’s game. “Yesterday the trainers called me and said, ‘If he can go, he can go. He’s been cleared.'”
Rivers said timing likely will be an adjustment for Griffin.
“Timing is timing,” Rivers said. “You lose it when you don’t play in an NBA game. Sometimes you come back and you play great the first game and then you lose your timing. Sometimes it doesn’t. As far as the way we play, it won’t be hard for him at all.”
In 51 games this season, Griffin is averaging 22.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists.
–Spurs guard Manu Ginobili had to be helped off the floor late in the third quarter against Minnesota on Sunday. Ginobili went down with 43 seconds left in the quarter and with the Spurs leading the Timberwolves by 30 points.
He was helped off the floor and immediately was led to the locker room. He did not put any weight on his right leg as he was carried off the court.
Up to that point, Ginobili had scored 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting in 19 minutes. He battled a stomach illness last week, forcing him to miss a game against Toronto and play limited minutes against Cleveland on March 12.
–Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr sent emails to three fans who were disappointed that he rested several prominent players, including All-Star guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, in Friday’s loss to the Nuggets in Denver.
“There’s two really good sides to the story,” Kerr said, according to the Associated Press report. “Nobody’s wrong here. … I can’t argue with them.”
Kerr received an email from a family that drove from South Dakota to Denver to see Curry, Thompson and the entertaining Warriors play. But Curry, Thompson, center Andrew Bogut and reserve guard Andre Iguodala did not play so they could be rested, and the Warriors lost 114-103.
“I heard from some fans. I received a few emails, stories about driving in from a long distance off and spending a lot of money on tickets,” Kerr said. “I have great sympathy for those people. I really do. It’s a tricky one. It’s something that I think Adam Silver is trying to address through the scheduling shuffling that he’s talking about.
–The Dallas Mavericks recalled center/forward Dwight Powell from the Texas Legends of the NBA Development League on Sunday.
The 6-foot-11, 240-pound Powell played in one game during his most recent assignment to the D-League and finished with 28 points, five rebounds and two assists to lead the Legends in a 115-89 win over the Austin Spurs on Saturday night.
Powell has appeared in 19 games for the Mavericks this season, averaging 3.5 points and 2.2 rebounds in 10.0 minutes per game.
–The Atlanta Hawks signed forward Austin Daye to a 10-day contract Sunday.
Daye appeared in 26 games (four starts) earlier this season with the San Antonio Spurs, averaging 4.0 points and 2.3 rebounds in 10.3 minutes.
In 10 games this season with the Erie BayHawks of the NBA Development League, Daye has averaged 16.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.1 blocks in 28.5 minutes.
–The Miami Heat recalled guard Zoran Dragic from the Sioux Falls Skyforce of the NBA Development League on Sunday.
Zoran appeared in four games (one start) and averaged 16.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.50 steals, helping the Skyforce to a 3-1 record over that span.