The slumping Cleveland Cavaliers have looked lost without LeBron James. Fortunately for them, he could be on his way back.
James is a game-time decision for Tuesday night’s road matchup with the Phoenix Suns.
The four-time MVP has been out since Dec. 30 with a strained back and sore left knee, leaving Cleveland without the league’s second-leading scorer for its last eight games. The Cavaliers have been limited to an average of 89.4 points and 39.7 percent shooting in losing eight of nine.
"LeBron being out, that’s (25) points we have to make up every game," teammate Kyrie Irving said of James, who is hoping to return after going through a limited practice Monday.
The Cavaliers (19-19) are on the verge of dropping below .500 for the first time since Nov. 24 after falling 103-84 at Sacramento on Sunday, their season-worst fifth consecutive loss. Kevin Love had 25 points, Irving scored 21 and Timofey Mozgov added 14 and 12 rebounds in his first start since coming over from Denver last week, but Cleveland was outscored 29-15 in the second quarter.
"We’re going through a lot of trials and tribulations, a lot of changes," coach David Blatt said. "We’re making adjustments on the fly. Tonight was definitely not a step forward. It wasn’t a good performance, you can’t sugar coat it."
Phoenix would certainly like to see James sit out at least one more night. He’s scored 72 points and shot 63.9 percent in his last two games against the Suns, and his team has won the last 11 meetings.
The Cavs had dropped four straight in the series before pulling out a 110-101 road victory March 12 behind Irving’s 23 points. Cleveland has averaged 107.3 points in winning four of its last six in Phoenix.
The Suns (22-18) return home after closing a 2-2 road trip with back-to-back defeats, including Sunday’s 122-110 double-overtime loss to Memphis. Phoenix stormed back from 14 down in the fourth quarter but fell apart in the second OT, getting outscored 14-2.
"That’s what we do, we always fight," said center Alex Len, who had 14 points and a career-high 13 rebounds. "Unfortunately at the end, we just made some not really smart plays. … We were right there, we had an opportunity to win the game, we just didn’t close it out. But we know if we make a few adjustments, we can compete with any team in the league."
Isaiah Thomas led the Suns with 20 points off the bench but committed a season-high seven of the team’s 21 turnovers. Markieff Morris added 17 points after scoring a season-low three on 1-of-13 shooting two nights earlier in a 100-95 loss at San Antonio.
Phoenix hasn’t dropped three in a row since a season-high six-game skid Dec. 6-15.
Coming home could be just what the Suns need to get on a hot streak, as they’ve averaged 120.3 points during a season-best three-game winning streak at US Airways Center. No team has hosted fewer games than Phoenix with 16, and it’s set to open a season-high eight-game homestand.
The Suns have won six straight and 12 of 18 overall against Eastern Conference opponents.
Recently acquired J.R. Smith has scored zero, 27 and four points while shooting a combined 34.2 percent in his first three games with Cleveland. He’s averaging 15.7 points against the Suns for his second-highest mark against any team.