Red-hot Cavaliers look to complete season sweep of Hornets
LeBron James is healthy, Kyrie Irving is scoring and Kevin Love is again involved in the offense.
Finally, the Cleveland Cavaliers seem to be clicking.
Riding a winning streak that has seen dominant play on both ends of the court, Cleveland will look to complete a three-game season sweep of the Charlotte Hornets on Friday night.
The Cavaliers (23-20) downed Utah 106-92 on Wednesday for their fourth consecutive victory and fifth straight contest with at least 100 points – a mark they had failed to reach in the seven games prior. James had 26 points, Irving scored 18 and Love finished with 19 points and 13 rebounds.
The win also marked another strong defensive performance as Cleveland forced the Jazz into 20 turnovers and a 41.7 field-goal percentage after holding Chicago to 37.5 percent shooting in a 108-94 victory Monday.
"Defensively, we’ve stepped it up," said James, who has averaged 30.6 points in five games since returning to the lineup following an eight-game absence. "When you have that, when everyone is in a good rhythm offensively, we’re sharing the ball, defensively we’re helping one another – the game is fun."
Timofey Mozgov and J.R. Smith have also served as key contributors during the win streak. Mozgov has started six of seven games since he was acquired from Denver on Jan. 7, and he averaged 15.5 points and 13.0 rebounds in the last two. Smith has topped the 20-point mark three times since he was traded from New York on Jan. 6.
Smith had 15 points and tied a season high with seven rebounds Wednesday.
"I just play," Smith said. "When I get an open shot, I shoot. When I don’t, I try to make a play for one of my teammates. The way we scramble, the way we hustle, it’s my type of game. We play up and down. It just seems like a perfect fit."
Charlotte (18-25) enters on a hot streak of its own, winning eight of nine after knocking off Miami 78-76 on Wednesday. Against James, however, the Hornets rarely prevail.
James has won his last 19 matchups with Charlotte, including the playoffs, and he scored a career-best 61 points on March 3 while with the Heat.
Charlotte fell to Cleveland 91-87 on Jan. 2 despite the Cavaliers being without James and having not yet acquired Mozgov or Smith. The Hornets shot 36.8 percent, with leading scorer Kemba Walker going 4 for 16.
Walker returned Wednesday after missing two games because of a cyst on his left knee, but he produced a similarly poor 4-for-17 shooting effort. In his six games prior, Walker averaged 29.8 points.
Walker has also played a key role on defense, as Charlotte leads the NBA with 95.3 points allowed per game.
"Our communication has been great," Walker said. "We’re constantly talking and in the right spots. It’s been picture perfect."
The Hornets are likely to face an even deeper Cleveland team as Iman Shumpert, acquired along with Smith, is expected to make his team debut after being sidelined since mid-December with a dislocated left shoulder.
He averaged 9.3 points in 24 games with the Knicks.
"We still have one ‘gel piece’ coming very soon that we are all excited about," James said. "Once he gets into the motion, then we can go from there."