LeBron, Cavs end rough March with 122-105 win over 76ers

CLEVELAND (AP) — LeBron James scored 34 points, Kyrie Irving dropped 24 and the Cleveland Cavaliers ended a turbulent and troublesome March with an easy 122-105 win over the injury-weakened Philadelphia 76ers on Friday night.

James made 14 of 22 shots in 30 minutes as the Cavs ended a three-game losing streak and won for just the third time in eight games to end the month 7-10.

It’s been an alarming stretch for the NBA champions, who are running out of time to get tuned up for the postseason. But against the lowly Sixers, Cleveland regained some of its swagger before heading into April when the real fun begins.

Kevin Love added 18 points and 10 rebounds as the Cavs won their ninth straight over the Sixers.

Richaun Holmes and rookie Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot scored 19 apiece for Philadelphia, which only dressed nine players after shutting down Jahlil Okafor and Robert Covington for the remainder of the season with knee injuries.

The Cavs have been shaky for some time with defensive issues, injuries and inconsistency leading to questions about whether they can repeat. Following Thursday’s loss in Chicago, the Cavs held a players-only meeting to clear the air.

“Guys talked,” coach Tyronn Lue said before the game. “Now we’ve got to move on and play. We’ve done enough talking over the last couple weeks. Now we just gotta settle in, we gotta play.”

They finally did just that, blowing the game open in the second quarter by outscoring the Sixers 38-23. James had two dunks in a span of 15 seconds as Cleveland built a 23-point lead.

Love knocked down a pair of 3-pointers early in the third and the Cavs entertained their crowd with a few alley-oop dunks while opening their lead to 32.

James, who was pulled 90 seconds into the fourth, was in a foul mood following Thursday’s game. He was on the floor Friday at Quicken Loans Arena about two hours before tip-off to get up some shots, something he routinely does for important games.

Given the state of the Cavs, this one was significant.

Cleveland came in trailing Boston by a half-game for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.


76ers: Rookie F Dario Saric went 3 of 12, 1 of 7 on 3s. … Philadelphia decided it was best to sit Okafor (sore right knee) and Covington (swollen right knee) for the last seven games to get them ready for next season. It’s possible Covington will need surgery after an MRI revealed torn meniscus. Those injuries are the latest for the hobbled Sixers, who lost Joel Embiid earlier this month and never got top pick Ben Simmons on the floor after he broke his foot before the season.

Cavaliers: Improved to 15-1 against Atlantic Division teams. … Cleveland was once again short-handed as F Richard Jefferson (left knee tendinitis) and G Kyle Korver (left knee soreness) sat out. Lue didn’t know when either will return. … World B. Free, who played for the Cavs from 1982-86, was honored during a timeout in the first quarter. A fan favorite, Free rarely passed up a shot while averaging 23 points in 275 games for Cleveland. Free broke in with the Sixers in 1975. … Lue said meetings are only effective “if you did something about it. We had a couple of meetings and now we have to do something about it. We can talk all we want but until we perform it means nothing.”


76ers: At Toronto on Sunday.

Cavaliers: Resume their three-game homestand on Sunday against Indiana, which is battling for a playoff spot.

As teams make the final push toward the NBA playoffs, not much has changed from a year ago.

That's because the same question looms as it did in 2016: Can anyone stop the Golden State Warriors?
The regular season ends April 12. The playoffs start April 15. Sure, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers are the defending NBA champions, and they're a favorite to return to the NBA Finals for the third consecutive year.

But the talk all season has been about the super team assembled in Golden State, having added Kevin Durant to an already loaded roster with Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson.

A year after setting the NBA regular-season wins record with 73, the Warriors once again are at the top of the Western Conference heading into April. As in 2016, Golden State is closing in on home-court advantage for the postseason, with the San Antonio Spurs close behind.

The Warriors aren't on the blistering pace they were last year, and they're currently without Durant, who has been out the past month because of a sprained medial collateral ligament and bone bruise in his left knee.

The team is hopeful Durant will be back for the postseason. On Wednesday, the Warriors said Durant "has made very good progress" and "a return to game action prior to the end of the regular season remains a possibility."

But even if Durant isn't available, the 2016 runners-up and 2015 champs are still title favorites. Can anyone else make waves in the West? The Spurs -- in the playoffs for the 20th consecutive season -- are 2-1 against the Warriors this season.

The Houston Rockets, led by MVP candidate James Harden, are making a run as well. However, they went 1-3 against the Warriors in the regular season.

In the Eastern Conference, the Cavaliers don't have a stranglehold on the top spot. This year, the reigning champs are in a battle with the Boston Celtics for the No. 1 seed, and having home-court advantage could be pivotal should the two teams face each other in a best-of-seven series in the Eastern Conference finals.

And lately, Cleveland hasn't rocked. The Cavs went 7-10 in the month of March and have dropped five out of their last eight games.

"We're just in a bad spot right now," James said after losing to the Chicago Bulls on Thursday. "Not disappointed with the effort. We're just in a bad spot. We're going to try to figure it out."

Also lurking nearby in the East are the Toronto Raptors, who reached the Eastern Conference finals last season, and the Washington Wizards.

Additionally, look out for potential upsets in the early rounds. Depending on where they're seeded, triple-double machine Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder could scare a first-round opponent in the West. Westbrook has 39 triple doubles, two away from tying Oscar Robertson for the most in a season.

In the East, the Miami Heat -- who started the season 11-30 -- have been scorching down the stretch. Now, it appears they'll reach the playoffs and will be a team no one wants to play.

But make no mistake: Everyone is chasing Golden State. And for the third year in a row, a Cavs-Warriors NBA Finals is a real possibility. Will it happen again? Stay tuned.

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