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Waiters gives Cavs a boost vs. Grizzlies

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CLEVELAND — Dion Waiters dribbled baseline to baseline in the fourth quarter and made a driving layup while being fouled. He celebrated by flexing his muscles for the entire sellout crowd to see.

In what has been a turbulent season for the Cleveland Cavaliers reserve guard, Waiters finally had the chance to show his strength in a 105-91 win Sunday over the short-handed Memphis Grizzlies.

Waiters scored 21 points off the bench, guard Kyrie Irving had 17 points while tying his career high with 12 assists and the Cavaliers handed the Grizzlies their worst loss of the season on a day they were playing without two starters in forward Zach Randolph and swingman Tony Allen.

“This is a super team,” Memphis coach Dave Joerger said of the Cavs. “They have three guys that are max guys that made a lot of plays. They’re really good.”

Forward LeBron James scored 25 points and handed out 11 assists, guiding the Cavaliers to an early 14-point lead while center Marc Gasol compounded the Grizzlies’ problems by sitting much of the first quarter with foul trouble. The Grizzlies never recovered and trailed the rest of the way, dropping consecutive games for just the second time this season.

The biggest surprise for the Cavaliers, however, was Waiters. He scored 13 points in the fourth quarter and shined one night after he was benched for the second half against the Brooklyn Nets. Waiters’ interest level seems to match his scoring output: When his shots are falling, he is more active defensively and more engaged in the game. That was true again Sunday.

“I was really happy to see what Dion did tonight and it had very little to do with the points he scored,” Cavaliers coach David Blatt said. “When he’s engaged and playing freely and when he’s not allowing himself to be disturbed by other things, Dion can really play basketball.”

Waiters moved to the bench three games into the season and has been a disappointment much of the season. He is having the worst shooting season of his three-year career but managed to put all of that aside on Sunday. He splashed a couple of 3-pointers, drove at the appropriate times and finished the night 9 of 16 shooting.

The Cavaliers shot a season-best 61 percent and recorded 34 assists on 46 baskets.

“You see in the first quarter I feel it out, I really don’t take a lot of shots. I try to do other things besides score the ball,” Waiters said. “Once ‘Bron and Ky go out, now I can do a little bit of scoring. When they come back in, you have to find that role. You have to stay mentally locked in, because once you get it rolling, they’re going to continue to feed you.”

Randolph did not make the trip because of a sore knee and Allen sat with an eye injury. Gasol finished with 23 points and 11 rebounds, and forward Jon Leuer had 16 points and seven rebounds while starting in place of Randolph.

“We play who we have,” Gasol said. “Whoever’s not here is not here. Trust me, we have enough talent in this locker room not just to win tonight but to win the same amount of games we’ve won so far.”

The Grizzlies are in the midst of a grueling stretch of five games in seven nights.

“We’ve got to fight harder and be tougher and push through,” said Grizzlies guard Mike Conley, who had 11 points and five assists while struggling through a 5 of 13 shooting night. “We knew coming in this whole week was going to be tough.” .

NOTES: Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger does not think F Zach Randolph will be available for Monday’s home game against the Utah Jazz. “His knee is pretty swollen,” Joerger said. … The Grizzlies are in the midst of playing five games in seven nights, including the three-overtime win against the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday. “The guys have been playing their tails off,” Joerger said. … Cavaliers G Kyrie Irving was mired in a 37-for-103 slump (36 percent) over his previous seven games. “Guys go through periods like that,” coach David Blatt said. “We know he can shoot the ball and the ball will go in.” … Cleveland recalled C Alex Kirk from the NBA Development League prior to Sunday’s game, but he did not play.