James leads Cavs to fifth straight win
By TOM WITHERS
AP Sports Writer
CLEVELAND (AP) The Cavaliers are hitting the road spinning their wheels.
LeBron James scored 26 points, Mo Williams added 17 and Cleveland, despite scoring just 2 points in the final 6:35 amid a torrent of turnovers, survived a late Milwaukee surge and a final shot to beat the Bucks 85-82 on Friday night for their fifth straight win.
James finished with 10 rebounds and eight assists as the Cavs won their ninth straight game at home and left Cleveland with some needed momentum to begin a four-game road trip that will include a Christmas Day game against the NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers.
The standings say the Cavs are rolling. The truth is, they’re not.
Cleveland hasn’t played like a title contender for weeks and an upcoming stretch of four games in five nights will be a challenge.
“It will be a good test for us,” Shaquille O’Neal said. “It’s a business trip. We’ll be going against a lot of good teams (Dallas, Phoenix, Sacramento and Los Angeles). We’re going to be locked in as soon as we get on the plane.”
Milwaukee rookie Brandon Jennings scored 18 points, but the speedy point guard fired up an air ball on a 3-pointer with 4.5 seconds left that would have tied it. Jennings, who was just 5 of 21 from the field, took the last attempt with Williams in his face.
“Our last shot was a terrible shot,” Bucks coach Scott Skiles said. “We needed a much better shot than that. We had something else going. We’ll have to address that.”
It was yet another tough loss for the Bucks, who have dropped seven games by three points or fewer.
After a sluggish first three quarters, the Cavs seemed in control when Delonte West’s jumper put them up 83-68 with 6:35 remaining.
But Cleveland suddenly forgot what got it the lead and a 14-2 burst by the Bucks made it more interesting than it should have been for the Cavs, who went just 1 of 9 in the final 6:35 and committed three turnovers.
Charlie Bell made a 3-pointer and Ersan Ilyasova, who finished with 18 points, drained a 3 as the Bucks went on a 10-2 run to pull within 85-78. The Cavaliers completely lost their offensive flow and mostly stood around waiting for James to do something with the ball.
When James couldn’t bail them out, the other Cavs seemed to get tight and made several turnovers. After a miss by Jamario Moon, the speedy Jennings, who earlier in the day was fined $7,500 by the NBA posting a message on his Twitter account too soon after Milwaukee’s double-overtime win over Portland last weekend, made two free throws with 29.4 seconds left to make it 85-82.
The Cavs again failed to score and gave it back to the Bucks. Following a timeout, Milwaukee got the ball to the never-shy-to-shoot Jennings. But his attempt from the right wing was about one foot short of the rim. Cleveland’s Anderson Varejao grabbed the loose ball with 3.1 seconds left and flung the ball toward midcourt as the clock expired.
“I thought Mo Williams was going to go for the switch when I was driving past him, but he stuck with me,” Jennings said. “He didn’t go for the drive or the fake. He played good defense right there. We can hang with the best teams in the league. We came in here and gave them a scare tonight. We were one shot away from going to overtime.”
The Cavs have been beating some of the league’s lesser teams, but they’ll need to step up their game for the upcoming road swing.
“I’ve been in the league for 17 years and I’ve gotten to the big dance many different ways,” O’Neal said. “It doesn’t matter how you get there. I’ve seen a lot of teams play perfect at the beginning and mess up at the end. We’re learning. We’ve been put through a lot of tests on our mental toughness and it’s going to be good for us.
“It’s all about wining.”
And for the Cavs, it’s all about defense. Cleveland held Milwaukee to 5 of 25 shooting in the third quarter, 33 points in the second half and 36 percent shooting overall.
“The one thing we did is we flew around big time,” James said. “We just contested everything.”
Milwaukee’s Andrew Bogut, averaging 15.9 points, was held to just 4 in 17 minutes because of foul trouble.
NOTES: In light of Jennings being fined for his postgame Tweet, James said he has no intention of opening a Twitter account and doesn’t see much value in social networking. “I don’t need people following me around,” he said. “I don’t need people to know that I’m in the locker room getting ready for a game. They should already know that. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, but it’s not for me.” … Bucks C Dan Gadzuric did not travel with the team to Cleveland after injuring his knee during practice on Thursday. … Cavs G Daniel Gibson has shaved the Texas Longhorns’ logo into his head. Gibson attended the school. … Milwaukee’s 12-point output in the third was a season-low for a quarter.
Updated December 18, 2009