Cavaliers look for payback and to extend win streak against 76ers
Less than a month ago, the Philadelphia 76ers came from 17 down to beat Cleveland, sending the Cavaliers to an unquestioned low point and revealing their lack of depth.
That's no longer an issue.
Two trades and the healthy return of two stars later, the Cavaliers look to push their winning streak to 11 on Monday night by getting a little payback on a visiting 76ers team that nearly ended a much lengthier run two days earlier.
LeBron James was in the midst of a stretch of eight games off and Kyrie Irving sat out with lower back tightness when Cleveland (29-20) visited Philadelphia on Jan. 5 and blew a 10-point lead with less than six minutes left in a 95-92 loss.
Kevin Love had 28 points and 19 rebounds, but there wasn't much help to be found. Cleveland was in the process of acquiring J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert in a three-team trade right before the game, and was forced to start Mike Miller, Matthew Dellavedova and Joe Harris while giving James Jones, Brendan Haywood and A.J. Price minutes off the bench.
Price is no longer on the roster and there's a good chance four of the other five don't shed their warmups in this one. Smith and Shumpert have settled into key roles, Timofey Mozgov has shored up the middle after being acquired from Denver on Jan. 7 and James and Irving look rejuvenated.
It was James' turn to take over offensively Saturday. He had 16 of his 36 points in the fourth, outscoring Minnesota by himself as the Cavaliers owned a 30-11 edge in the quarter while rallying for a 106-90 win.
"I just think LeBron recognized the moment, knew it was his time and showed why he's the best player in the game once again," coach David Blatt said after Cleveland improved to 27-12 when James plays.
While the Cavs' streak is their first to reach double digits since a franchise-record 13-game run in 2009-10, the 76ers (10-38) nearly snapped an even longer one Saturday.
Down by as many as 21 in Atlanta, Philadelphia took the lead with less than three minutes to play before the Hawks closed on a 10-2 run to win 91-85 and extend their streak of perfection to 19.
Coach Brett Brown called the 76ers' performance "a fantastic learning experience."
"You've put in a lot of work," Brown said. "Let it fly. Go ahead and get your legs into your shot, find your teammate and you will or you won't. And (Atlanta) did."
Philadelphia hit 14 of 35 from 3-point range Saturday, but it's averaging just 85.9 points and shooting 39.4 percent in its last eight games.
That's troubling news considering Cleveland's done a 180 defensively on its streak. The Cavs have allowed an average of 92.9 points and held opponents to 40.2 percent shooting in the past eight after yielding 100.7 per game and 47.2 percent shooting - 29th in the NBA - in their first 41 contests.
Cleveland's been especially good in the first quarter in its last eight, outscoring opponents by an average of 7.1 points. The starting five of Irving, Smith, James, Love and Mozgov outscored the opposition by an astounding 29.3 points per 100 possessions when on the floor together in January.
The 76ers have moved K.J McDaniels back to the bench, but a lineup of him, Michael Carter-Williams, Robert Covington, Luc Mbah a Moute and Nerlens Noel was Philadelphia's best - and the NBA's 11th-best - last month, posting a plus-9.7 net rating.