Being mostly at home ahead of the playoffs gives the Cleveland Cavaliers an excellent chance to enter with plenty of momentum.
They haven’t lost in Cleveland since reshaping the roster in early January, and that seems unlikely to change Sunday against an overmatched Philadelphia 76ers team which is just happy to face playoff-bound opponents.
Six of the Cavaliers’ eight remaining games are at Quicken Loans Arena, and they are riding the franchise’s longest home winning streak since a 16-game run Feb. 11-April 12, 2009. This 15-game streak dates back to a loss to Houston on Jan. 7, the same day they acquired Timofey Mozgov and a day after they traded for J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert.
Cleveland now begins a three-game homestand after 15 of its previous 20 games were on the road.
"It’ll be good to get wins at home, continue our streak and continue to get better and get some much needed rest," Irving said.
The Cavaliers (47-27) get three days off following this game before hosting Miami on Thursday and Chicago on Sunday. They’re trying to hold off the Bulls and Toronto for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, as well as go into the postseason in top form.
"We’ve got to have that consistency and we’re still finding out a lot about ourselves, but I think that on and off switch has to go away pretty soon," Irving said. "We have to unite to be on all the time."
Irving was speaking after Cleveland was surprised by sub-.500 Brooklyn on Friday, falling 106-98 for its second loss in 10 games. Irving had 26 points, and LeBron James added 24 but was held to two baskets in the second half.
"One thing we can do is try to control how hard we play and how much we communicate. I don’t think we did that to our capabilities (Friday)," James said. "… There’s no excuses."
They’d have no excuse for losing to the 76ers (18-55), whose 6-30 road record is better than only league-worst New York. James has won 21 of the last 22 games he’s played against them.
Philadelphia is scoring a league-low 91.4 points per game while Cleveland ranks second among East teams at 103.6.
The lottery-bound 76ers were blown out Friday by another playoff qualifier, falling 119-98 to the Clippers. Philadelphia has only three wins over teams with winning records.
"I think it’s a great lesson, a great experience to play against a real team that is a few weeks away from going into the playoffs," coach Brett Brown said. "… We talk about that all the time, and we have one Sunday with the Cavaliers. And I think it’s a fantastic, real-time lesson, a real-time example of this is what we aspire to get to."
A bright spot lately has been Nerlens Noel, who leads all rookies with 16 double-doubles and has averaged 18.0 points with 12.0 rebounds over his last five games. Noel had a career-high 30 points and 14 boards against Clippers defensive standout DeAndre Jordan, and he’ll face another challenge from Mozgov.
The 7-foot-1 center keys Cleveland’s interior defense, but he also is a valuable contributor elsewhere. Since the All-Star break, Mozgov has averaged 6.8 points and 4.6 rebounds in the Cavaliers’ five losses compared to 13.3 and 8.4, respectively, in their 14 wins.
Likewise, Smith has averaged 9.0 points in four defeats this month while shooting 8 of 30 from 3-point range. In 10 March victories, he’s hit 50.7 percent from beyond the arc and averaged 15.0 points.
Smith and Mozgov combined for 10 points on 4-of-13 shooting Friday.
"We’re still not at the finish line," coach David Blatt said. "We have to refocus our attention immediately to get on track."