Winners of four straight, Cavs look to best the struggling Jazz
Remodeled by two trades and buoyed by the return of LeBron James, the resurgent Cleveland Cavaliers hope to continue playing up to their lofty expectations.
After starting their four-game homestand with an impressive performance, the Cavaliers look to make it four straight wins Wednesday night against a Utah Jazz team trying to avoid its fourth consecutive road defeat.
Cleveland (22-20) has quieted questions surrounding first-year coach David Blatt’s job security by getting back on track following a 1-9 stretch in which James missed eight consecutive games.
The four-time MVP now says he’s feeling better than he has all season, averaging 31.8 points and 7.0 rebounds in four games since recovering from knee and back soreness.
After scoring 89.1 per game on 39.4 percent shooting over their previous seven, the Cavaliers have averaged 110.8 points with James back to the lineup. They put up at least 108 for the third straight game in Monday’s 108-94 win over Central Division-leading Chicago, improving to 21-12 when James plays.
"I like the way we’ve been the last few games," said James, who missed Tuesday’s practice with flu-like symptoms. "I like the way we’ve played the last week. We’ve played some really, really good basketball."
Cleveland followed up an impressive 126-121 road win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday by holding the Bulls to 37.5 percent shooting.
Kyrie Irving had 18 points and 12 assists and Kevin Love returned after missing a game due to back spasms, but it was the Cavs’ new acquisitions that especially stood out. Timofey Mozgov had 15 points and 15 boards in his first home game, while J.R. Smith hit 6 of 9 3-pointers.
Smith has averaged 17.0 points and hit 20 of 47 (42.6 percent) from 3-point range in six starts since arriving in Cleveland. The other former Knick the Cavaliers acquired, Iman Shumpert, is back at practice and could return as early as Friday against Charlotte from a dislocated shoulder that’s sidelined him since Dec. 12.
Although the Jazz (14-27) have held their last two opponents under 90 points, they’re looking to rebound from their lowest-scoring effort in nine years in Sunday’s 89-69 loss at San Antonio.
Rudy Gobert had 13 points and a season-high 18 rebounds, but Gordon Hayward was held to 10 points on 4-of-15 shooting. They were the only two Utah players in double figures in a season-worst 33.3 percent shooting effort.
Derrick Favors was held to nine points in the team’s fourth defeat in five games after averaging 20.7 in his previous six. Trey Burke finished with eight after scoring 19.3 per game over his prior six.
"We couldn’t throw it in the ocean," said Hayward, who had 31 points in Friday’s 94-85 home win over the Los Angeles Lakers that snapped a three-game losing streak.
Hayward had 21 points and hit the winning 21-foot jumper as time expired in Utah’s 102-100 home win over the Cavs on Nov. 5. He’s averaged 21.3 while making 7 of 13 from beyond the arc in his last three meetings.
Irving led Cleveland with 34 points in that contest and has scored 26.7 per game in the last three versus Utah – also producing the lone triple-double of his career in a 99-79 home victory in February.
James is averaging 29.7 points – his top mark versus any Western Conference opponent – in 22 career matchups, though his teams have lost six of the past nine.