76ers hope to challenge Cavaliers again

The Philadelphia 76ers put up a surprisingly good fight when they hosted the Cleveland Cavaliers earlier this month.

The Sixers can only hope to do the same when the defending NBA champions return to town on Sunday afternoon.

As of Friday, the Cavaliers were planning a side trip Saturday to Columbus, Ohio, for the Ohio State-Michigan football game before continuing on to Philadelphia.

Cleveland will along a 12-2 record, best in the Eastern Conference, including a three-game winning streak.

The Sixers, while not quite as feeble as in recent years, are 4-12 and have dropped two in a row.

Philadelphia nonetheless pushed Cleveland to the limit on Nov. 5, losing 102-101. Cleveland guard J.R. Smith stripped Gerald Henderson of the ball on a drive to the basket in the closing seconds, a play on which the 76ers argued for a foul, to no avail.

It was one of the few times the Cavs have been challenged this season.

The Cavaliers became the first team in NBA history to make more than 20 3-pointers in back-to-back games when they drubbed Dallas 128-90 on Friday night.

Cleveland made 20-for-43 shots from downtown, after going 21-for-36 from behind the arc in Wednesday's 137-125 victory over Portland.

“We were making 11, 12 or 13 3s (per game), but I thought that we could shoot better,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue told ESPN.com. “The last couple games the guys have been shooting really well.”

Kevin Love drilled 15 of 21 3-pointers in those two games. He scored 40 points against Portland, 34 of those in the first quarter. That's the highest total in a first quarter in league history and three shy of the record for any quarter.

Earlier this season, Love was passing up 3-pointers in favor of trying to draw contact and get to the foul line, but after reviewing film with assistant coach Phil Handy, he decided it was better to fire away.

“So many guys close out to me so hard, but having my size, I'm able to get the ball off quick if I just catch and shoot,” Love told ESPN.com. “I think I saw that and I've been able to do that. That's only going to open up more for everybody. Feels good right now.”

The Cavaliers are led, as always, by LeBron James, who is averaging 23.5 points, 8.2 rebounds and 9.5 assists.

James had a triple-double against Portland, and rang up 19 points and 11 assists against Dallas.

Kyrie Irving is scoring at a 23.8 point-per-game clip, while Love is averaging 22.1 points and 10.7 rebounds.

James finished with 25 points, 14 assists and eight rebounds in the earlier game against Philadelphia, and Love had 20 points and 11 boards.

Irving, however, managed only eight points on 3-for-17 shooting.

The Sixers rested prize rookie center Joel Embiid on Friday, when they lost 105-89 to Chicago, the fifth game he has missed this season. Embiid, who underwent two foot surgeries and missed two seasons, is being limited to 24 minutes.

Neither coach Brett Brown nor a team spokesman could say on Friday whether Embiid, who scored 22 points against Cleveland in the earlier game, would play Sunday against the Cavs or Monday in Toronto.

The Sixers have been without top overall pick Ben Simmons (foot) and veteran big man Nerlens Noel (knee) all season.

Cleveland forward Channing Frye will not be with the team Sunday, as his father, Tommy, died on Thanksgiving.