Cavaliers go for sixth straight victory
The Cleveland Cavaliers have emerged from a tumultuous stretch into a win streak that has them looking like the team many thought they’d be all along.
Coming off yet another lopsided victory, Cleveland wraps up its four-game homestand Sunday against former Cavalier Dion Waiters and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
After falling in Phoenix in LeBron James’ first game back from injury, the Cavaliers (24-20) have rattled off five straight wins, capped by a dominant 129-90 victory over Charlotte on Friday.
James scored 25 in 27 minutes, J.R. Smith hit seven 3-pointers and Cleveland posted its highest scoring output of the season.
"Right now, I feel like this is the team that I envisioned," James said of the Cavaliers, who have averaged 115.6 points during the win streak. "This is the style of basketball I envisioned. Obviously the points we put up I don’t envision that every night, but how we share the ball, how we defend, that should be our staple."
As impressive as the Cavaliers’ offensive output has been, perhaps the more encouraging sign for James and his teammates is their defense. Cleveland has held its last three opponents to 92.0 points per game and 39.9 percent shooting.
Since James has returned, though, Kevin Love’s already-pedestrian numbers have taken another hit. He’s averaged 14.0 points and shot just 34.5 percent in the past six games, missing 17 of 21 attempts from beyond the arc.
His three rebounds in Friday’s win were the fewest of his career when notching at least 29 minutes of playing time.
"Just trying to get all the guys on the same page, it’s somewhat of a fresh start," Love said. "When things are good, we have to just try and keep it rolling. If a slight setback happens, we need to grow from it, learn from it and move it forward it a right direction.
"Right now, things are good. But we’re playing a very tough team on Sunday."
Oklahoma City (22-21) has regained its elite status since the return of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, as the Thunder have won 14 of 20 games when both superstars are active. They combined for 43 points Friday against Atlanta, but Oklahoma City’s four-game win streak came to an end in a 103-93 loss.
"We have to play better," coach Scott Brooks told the Thunder’s official website. "It’s going to take 48 minutes of good basketball. You can’t have a two- or three-minute lull where it’s not good."
Dion Waiters slots in as a key component for Oklahoma City after he was dealt from the Cavaliers on Jan. 6. In his eight games with the Thunder, Waiters has averaged 11.4 points in 28 minutes of action off the bench.
Cleveland selected Waiters fourth overall in the 2012 NBA Draft, and he averaged 14.3 points in 164 career games with the Cavaliers.
"To be truthful, it’s a regular game," Waiters said. "That’s how I look at it. Come out there, be ready, play basketball, don’t think too much and have fun … I’m more excited that jitters. I always have something to prove."
James has averaged 33.8 points and shot 59.4 percent as his teams have won four of the last five regular-season matchups with the Thunder, but did not play in Cleveland’s first matchup with Oklahoma City this season – a 103-94 Thunder victory.
"Let’s not get ahead of ourselves," coach David Blatt said. "We’ve got a long way to go. I hope we can bring it again Sunday (against Oklahoma City), looking no further than that.
"We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us."