Surging Cavs get chance for revenge in Indiana
The wins keep coming for LeBron James and the surging Cleveland Cavaliers, who just got by the NBA's best team.
While they've proven nearly unbeatable over the last six weeks, one of their two defeats during that time came in Indianapolis.
Seeking a 19th win in 21 games, Cleveland will likely be without Kyrie Irving as it tries to avoid a 10th consecutive road loss to the Indiana Pacers on Friday night.
The Cavs (37-22) have outscored opponents by an average of 19.0 points in winning each of their four games since the break, including an impressive 110-99 victory over Golden State on Thursday. James had a season-high 42 points to go with 11 rebounds and Irving scored 24 as Cleveland climbed back into first place in the Central Division.
"We're not trying to send a message, just trying to improve every time we get an opportunity to come out on the floor and play," said James, who shot 15 of 25 for his best display in 14 games. "We've been doing some good things the last couple months, but we still have a lot of room to improve and hopefully we can continue that."
Irving exited with a shoulder issue in the third quarter before returning, but he will not travel with the team and is listed as doubtful.
James also gave fans a scare after briefly headed to the locker room with his backed wrapped in the second, but he didn't appear to be very limited down the stretch.
"If (James) plays like that with a sore back, imagine how well he'll play when he doesn't have a sore back," coach David Blatt said.
Cleveland has only been beaten twice since Jan. 15, falling 103-99 at Indiana on Feb. 6 and 113-98 at Chicago on Feb. 12. The Cavs' loss to the Pacers snapped a season-high 12-game winning streak and extended their skid in Indianapolis to nine, a stretch during which they've been outscored by an average of 11.1 points.
Cleveland took this season's first meeting 109-97 on Nov. 29, and Pacers coach Frank Vogel knows his team will have its hands full Friday.
"They're a great opponent, they're playing at a very, very high level," Vogel said. "Best player in the world, couple others that are close to being the best players in the world, and they're starting to gel. ... Obviously we're going to have to play great to beat them."
Tied with Detroit at the bottom of the Central, the Pacers (23-34) are coming off Tuesday's 105-92 loss at Oklahoma City. C.J. Miles scored 21 points to lead four players in double figures, but Indiana was outrebounded 57-48 and outscored 23-7 in transition.
"I think we just have to tighten the screws in those areas," said Vogel, whose team entered having won three straight and six of its previous seven.
Miles is dealing with two sore feet and missed Thursday's practice, but it sounds like he should be good to go. Miles, who spent the previous two seasons with Cleveland, led the way 26 points against the Cavs earlier this month while David West and George Hill added 20 apiece.
West is averaging just 7.7 points on 39.3 percent shooting over the last three games.
The Cavs are 35-9 when James scores at least 18 points. He had 25 in the Feb. 6 defeat while Irving finished with 29.
Cleveland has compiled an 8-7 record on the second of back-to-backs.