Adding a star has sparked the Dallas Mavericks’ recent surge, while the Cleveland Cavaliers still have to prove they can string victories together without LeBron James.
Rajon Rondo looks to build on his best performance of the season as he tries to lead the Mavericks to a fifth straight win Sunday against the Cavaliers.
After shooting 37.5 percent and averaging 10.7 points in his first three games following the trade from the Celtics, Rondo has given Dallas (24-10) a major lift. He’s hitting 52.4 percent from the floor and averaging 19.0 points while spurring a four-game winning streak after scoring a season-high 29 Friday in a 119-101 victory in his return to Boston.
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"He had such a good start to the game and he had a lot of confidence going. And he’s working hard on his shot, so his shooting is getting a lot better," coach Rick Carlisle told the team’s official website. "His recognition of situations with our team is getting a lot better and he’s working hard on his rhythm, so there was a lot of promising things."
Cleveland (19-14) may be feeling similarly optimistic. The Cavaliers ended a three-game slide with a 91-87 win at Charlotte, their first victory in three games without James, who is out two weeks with strains in his left knee and lower back.
"We’re missing the best player in the world right now and we want him to come back fast," first-year coach David Blatt said. "But only when he’s healthy. We will continue to play properly so that when he comes back, he’s coming into a more functional situation."
Kevin Love helped pick up the slack in James’ absence Friday, scoring 27 points after a back injury forced him to miss Wednesday’s 96-80 loss to Milwaukee and the fourth quarter of Tuesday’s loss at Atlanta.
"It’s an opportunity with LeBron out to show what I can do and try to help this team," Love said. "I think there are a going to be a number of different guys who are going to have to step up with his absence because he brings so much to the table."
Love averaged 31.2 points and 11.3 rebounds in his last six meetings with Dallas while with Minnesota, totaling 71 points in the last two.
Kyrie Irving has averaged 24.8 points in four career games against the Mavs, and he’s averaged 28.3 points in four games opposing Rondo. Irving had 27 against the Celtics in a November win for Cleveland, while Rondo had six points and 16 assists.
Irving averaged 20.2 points while attempting 15.4 field goals per game in his first 28 contests. With James out for the last three, he’s averaged 27.7 points but taken 10 more shots per night while connecting on 39.0 percent.
"I have no problem erring on the side of aggression (right now)," Irving said. "It’s just the way we’ve got to play."
Monta Ellis had 22 points in both wins over Cleveland last season and has averaged 26.9 in his last seven against the Cavaliers dating to his time in Milwaukee.
The Mavericks, who wrap up this three-game trip Monday in Brooklyn, are 9-0 on the road against the Eastern Conference this season and have won 13 straight interconference games overall.