Cavs take on playoff hopeful Celtics
After helping the Cleveland Cavaliers lock up the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 seed and Central Division crown, LeBron James may reportedly sit out the next two games.
The Boston Celtics surely wouldn’t be too upset to see him on the sidelines.
Cleveland goes for a 19th consecutive home win Friday night as it opens a home-and-home set against a Celtics team clinging to one of the East’s last two playoff spots.
James scored 10 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter in Wednesday’s 104-99 victory at Milwaukee, the Cavs’ fourth consecutive win and eighth in nine games. Cleveland’s division title is its first since 2009-10 but third in a row with James on board.
"To me, it means something," said James, third in the league with 25.5 points per game. "It should mean something to all of us. It’s not guaranteed every year with the tough competition in the NBA. We understand we have bigger goals than this, but along (those lines), you have accomplishments that you just can’t take for granted."
Kyrie Irving also came up big with 27 points, going 9 of 11 from the foul line as Cleveland (51-27) made 21 free throws to the Bucks’ nine. Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson combined for 27 points and 21 rebounds as the Cavs held a 44-32 edge on the glass.
"Even though we’re at the end of the season in pretty good position, we’re playing teams that are fighting for playoff spots," coach David Blatt said. "We knew we would be challenged. We knew it would be competitive. Milwaukee certainly gave a great fight. Fortunately we responded."
The Cavs are 2-9 without James this season, but they may try to get him some rest with the playoffs right around the corner. The four-time MVP scored a combined 68 points on 56.0 percent shooting as Cleveland took this season’s first two matchups against the Celtics.
Aside from James’ possible absence, this game could become a playoff preview if Boston (36-42) were to finish in seventh place. The Celtics are tied for that spot with Brooklyn but own the tiebreaker due to a better head-to-head record, and both teams sit just in front of Indiana and Miami with four games to go.
Boston has won four of five and five straight on the road after beating Detroit 113-103 on Wednesday. Isaiah Thomas poured in a season-high 34 points off the bench as the Celtics scored 26 off 19 turnovers.
Thomas, who missed eight games in March with a back injury, is averaging 27.3 points on 56.3 percent shooting over the last three.
"He’s great with the ball. He’s a really skilled player," coach Brad Stevens said of Thomas, acquired from Phoenix before the trade deadline. "We don’t need him to score 34 every night, but we need him to be good."
Boston’s road winning streak is its longest since putting together six consecutive victories Nov. 22-Dec. 15, 2010. Cleveland, which beat Boston 110-79 at home on March 3, is averaging 105.9 points and outscoring opponents by 14.6 per game during its 18-game run at home.
The Celtics are 7-34 when allowing more than 100 points.
These teams close the season series Sunday in Boston.