INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) - As the Cavaliers descend to the bottom of the standings in the final days of another depressing season, questions have mounted about coach Byron Scott's future. No doubt, he's in trouble. And while there are plenty of excuses - injuries and a lack of talent are atop the list - for Cleveland's awful record, Scott's not using any of them.
But one day after Cleveland was embarrassed at home by Brooklyn for its 10th straight loss, second-year Cavs forward Tristan Thompson decided it was time to defend Scott, who is just 62-160 in three seasons and may not be back for a fourth.
"All the rumors about coach Scott and hot seat and all that crap, that's bogus,'' Thompson said following Thursday's practice. "It's up to us to come out and compete and play hard because we're the ones out there. When he was out there playing, he won championships. So it's up to us to come out there and play.''
The Cavs regrouped following Wednesday's ugly loss, when they fell behind by 30 points at halftime and were throttled by the Nets, who were missing two starters but pushed around a Cleveland team that appeared to have called it a season with two weeks left.
Following a game that looked like many other losses this season, Scott couldn't explain why his young team had played with little energy or effort. And for the first time, Scott was asked the uncomfortable question of whether he was worried about losing his job. "Not really,'' he said. "I've always had the attitude, `Whatever happens, happens.'''
With eight games left, there's no telling what could happen in the weeks ahead. Scott is under contract for next year after the club picked up his option for 2013-14 in October. General manager Chris Grant has not publicly commented on Scott's future.
Owner Dan Gilbert, too, has been quiet on the subject. Scott was handed a difficult situation when he was hired in 2010, taking over the Cavs shortly after they were ousted from the NBA playoffs and before LeBron James decided to leave Cleveland as a free agent. Scott was charged with rebuilding a young team around point guard Kyrie Irving, but to this point, progress has been minimal.
Injuries to Irving, Anderson Varejao and Dion Waiters have made things infinitely more challenging, but Scott's critics argue that the Cavs don't play defense, his substitution patterns are scattered, and if the team isn't playing hard, that's a reflection on the coach. For the most part, Scott has chosen not to assess blame.
"I don't think I necessarily need to defend myself to the public - or especially in the papers,'' he said. "I know what type of job I'm doing here. I know what I've been given and what kind of situation we're in. I don't feel I need to defend myself. It's as simple as that.'' Scott, who was part of similar rebuilding projects in New Jersey and New Orleans, said it's impossible for him to evaluate the job he's done in Cleveland. "I haven't had all my pieces,'' he said.
"I can't even grade myself right now. I'd probably give myself a `C' or incomplete. It's been tough. I expected it to take 3 to 5 years. It's still on that timetable. There have been times it's been tougher than I expected. "If it doesn't kill you, it makes you stronger.'' Scott said he couldn't sleep following Wednesday's game, waking up at 3:33 a.m. with "some things on my mind.''
The 52-year-old wouldn't reveal what was bothering him, but it's safe to assume he was troubled by his team's continued inability to play consistently. There have been some positive moments even during the 10-game losing streak, but those have been concealed by Cleveland's home loss to Miami when the Cavs blew a 27-point lead in the third quarter, a 38-point loss at Houston and three other losses by at least 18 points.
Before preparing for Friday's game in Boston, Thompson said the Cavs held an "in-house'' meeting during which players and coaches spoke up. Scott was encouraged that one of his younger players raised his voice about the team's recent slide. "If guys don't fear or hate losing as much as I do, we're going to keep going through what we're going through,'' Scott said. "You have to be to the point where you hate losing. In the `80s, we hated losing games. It was gut-wrenching. I don't know if we've gone through that. I have. I don't know if they have.'
' Thompson wouldn't say if he was the one who addressed his teammates during the meeting. But the 22-year-old made it clear that he's tired of losing, and that he and his teammates are at fault - not Scott or his staff.
"They've done what they needed to do for us to be successful,'' he said. "It comes to us as players, coming out and competing and playing like men. We need to come out there and be men and be pros and compete. They can't control that.
That's up to us. Whatever you're saying about coach Scott, he's doing his part and all the coaching staff is doing their part. "We've got to step up as men and play.''
CLEVELAND (AP) There have been plenty of firsts for the Nets during their rookie season in Brooklyn after so many years over in New Jersey. On Wednesday night, they got another milestone. Deron Williams dunked. "I didn't really plan it,'' Williams said. "It's something that happened.'
' It's been that way all season for Brooklyn, which ended an eight-game road trip by crushing the Cleveland Cavaliers 113-95, giving the Nets a record for road wins in a season. Williams scored 24 points in 27 minutes and the Nets shot 83 percent (15 of 18) in the second quarter, when they outscored the Cavs 38-16 and opened a 30-point lead without much of a fight. Brooklyn's 21 road wins
are the most for the franchise, which moved to the New York City borough this season. "That's really significant,'' said interim coach P.J. Carlesimo, who took over when Avery Johnson was fired Dec. 28. "I'm really proud of them. They deserve it. That's a hell of a job.''
MarShon Brooks made his first 10 shots and finished with a career-high 27 points for the Nets, who haven't played at home since March 17 because the circus is at Barclays Center. There's something of a carnival going on in Cleveland.
The Cavaliers have lost 10 straight amid speculation about coach Byron Scott's future. Following the game, a disenchanted Scott lamented his team's lack effort in the first half. New Jersey scored more points (38) in the second quarter than Cleveland (36) had in the first 24 minutes. "I'm disappointed,'' Scott said. "I really am. After the effort we had in Atlanta (a 102-94 loss), to come back and play this way, I'm very disappointed. We just didn't show any life.
The energy, the effort wasn't there - for whatever reason.'' Williams made three 3-pointers and Brooklyn scorched the nets during a dazzling 12 minutes of marksmanship in the second quarter. With virtually every shot a swish, the Nets outscored the Cavs 28-8 over the final 7:17 to take a 66-36 halftime lead.
The Nets shot 73 percent (27 of 37) in the first half, when almost everything they hoisted toward the rim dropped through. Brooks surpassed his season high for points by halftime and Williams even recorded his first dunk this season, driving past several Cavs acting like statues.
Before Williams threw one down, 38-year-old Jerry Stackhouse cut to the basket and dunked over two Cleveland defenders. Williams joked that Stackhouse's jam motivated him. "He inspired me,'' Williams said. "To see a 38-year-old get a dunk, now I've got a dunk on the season.''
Despite playing without injured starters Joe Johnson (heel) and Gerald Wallace (foot), the playoff-bound Nets closed their 17-day trip by making some history. By going 5-3 on the trip they reached 21 road wins, eclipsing the previous team record set last season and in 2005-06. With only three road games left, the Nets have clinched their first winning road record since joining the NBA in 1976. Brooklyn also has 43 overall wins, the Nets' most since winning 49 in "05-'06.
Williams made four 3-pointers, added eight assists and didn't play the final 15 minutes as Carlesimo got a chance to rest his road-weary crew heading into an important home game with Chicago on Thursday. Brooklyn is trying to hold off the Bulls and Atlanta Hawks for the No. 4 playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. "I would have taken a one-pointer (win), no questions asked when the game started,'' Carlesimo said. "To get a win where we were able to rest guys, you probably couldn't have written a better script.'
' Reggie Evans had 18 rebounds and Brooks Lopez scored 14 for the Nets, whose reserves allowed the score to become more respectable in the fourth. For the young Cavs, the season can't end soon enough. Cleveland has been ravaged by injuries, but it's tough to make excuses for a team that continues to come out flat, plays little or no defense and has blown big leads. Scott, in his third season, is under contract for one more year. The club picked up his 2013-14 option before this season.
During their 10-game slide - the club's longest since dropping a league record 26 in a row in 2010-11 - the Cavs blew a 27-point lead at home to Miami, lost by 38 at Houston and had three other losses by at least 18. Scott was asked if he was afraid of losing his job. "Not really,'' he said. "I've always had the attitude, "Whatever happens, happens.'''
Cavs All-Star guard Kyrie Irving, playing his second game after missing eight with a shoulder injury, scored 16. Marreese Speights had 16 and 10 rebounds. Like his coach, Irving blamed the Cavs' lack of energy at the start. "Things went from bad to worse and once we got down we just stopped doing our whole game plan,'' he said. "It just went down the drain.''
Irving didn't want to address whether any of his teammates have quit on Scott. "I think you should ask them,'' he said. "I'm not going to be the one to answer that.'' Has Irving given up? "Have I checked out? No,'' he said. "I'm out here playing with basically still a sprained AC joint and with not a care in the world because I just want to play. I haven't checked out. That thought has never crossed my mind.''
Notes: Wallace was a late scratch after being hurt Saturday in Brooklyn's loss at Utah. ... Williams has 153 3-pointers this season, third most in team history. ... Carelsimo expects Johnson, the Nets' third-leading scorer who has missed five straight, to play Thursday against the Bulls. ... Cavs rookie G Dion Waiters hasn't played since March 20 because of loose cartilage in his knee. The Cavs are hoping he can avoid an arthroscopic procedure.
The Brooklyn Nets are looking at their next contest as an opportunity to finish an eight-game road stretch in strong fashion.
The Nets are unsure of the statuses of Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace heading into Wednesday night's matchup with a Cleveland Cavaliers team that has lost nine straight but should have Kyrie Irving back in the lineup.
Brooklyn (42-31) returned home after a 4-3 trip ended with losses to Denver and Utah. The Nets feel that the three days back following Saturday's 116-107 defeat to the Jazz have been beneficial.
"I guess it's a little blessing in disguise that we get (a chance) to finish up the road trip on a good note," center Brook Lopez said.
Johnson has missed the last four games with a strained quadriceps but returned to practice Tuesday. It's not clear if he will play Wednesday or wait until Thursday's contest with Chicago.
The Nets lead Atlanta by one game and the Bulls by two in the race for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, so interim coach P.J. Carlesimo may wait to use Johnson against Chicago.
Wallace sat out practice Tuesday with a sore left foot.
"You try and win but I think it's clearly not as important as the health issue, especially with Joe and Gerald right now," Carlesimo said.
The health of Irving is the primary concern for Cleveland (22-51). The Cavaliers have decided that Irving will sit out the second half of back-to-back contests to help him recover from a sprained left shoulder that kept him out for eight games March 12-29, and he missed Monday's 102-94 defeat at Atlanta.
"I think he understands we're just looking out for him," coach Byron Scott said. "That's the bottom line. We want him to finish the season on a good note, and healthy going into next season."
The Cavs haven't lost more than nine in a row since their NBA-record 26-game slide two seasons ago.
Irving would match up again with Deron Williams at point guard. The Nets have won the first two meetings this season, with Williams averaging 20.5 points and 8.5 assists and Irving averaging 23.5 and 7.5.
Lopez, averaging 23.0 points on 55.7 percent shooting over his last seven games, may be relishing this matchup. He's averaging 29.0 points on 67.6 percent shooting against Cleveland this season.
Cavs second-year forward Tristan Thompson is averaging 15.5 points and 10.0 rebounds against Brooklyn, which insists it won't be looking past the Cavs.
"This time of the season, no matter what team you're playing, they've been together for a full season, you know, and they're playing a lot better basketball," Williams said. "The teams that aren't in the playoffs, they really don't have nothing to lose so they go out there and play loose and free so we've just got to be focused on coming out and being ready to play every night and not overlooking anybody."
Copyright Associated Press 2013.
WTAM 1100 Cavs vs Nets 7pm
ATLANTA -- Devin Harris and the Atlanta Hawks picked up right where they left off.
Harris scored a season-high 25 points and Josh Smith nearly added a triple-double Monday night as the Hawks beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 102-94 to improve their chances of securing home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Harris, who scored 13 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter of Saturday's win over the visiting Magic, had Atlanta's first seven points and scored 11 in the first quarter as the Hawks built a 25-19 lead.
"I thought Devin Harris did a phenomenal job from start to finish," said Hawks coach Larry Drew, whose team alternated wins and losses for nine games prior to Monday. "His speed and quickness were there."
Smith had 18 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists before a sparse crowd in Philips Arena to help the Hawks (42-33) pull within one game of Brooklyn (42-31) for fourth place in the Eastern Conference.
Reserve Marreese Speights scored 14 of his 22 in the final quarter, but the Cavs (22-51) did not seriously threaten after pulling within 58-56 early in the third period.
Shaun Livingston, starting with Kyrie Irving not playing in the second night of a back-to-back, had 14 points and six assists in Cleveland's ninth straight loss.
"Overall, I thought we played extremely hard, competed," said Cleveland coach Byron Scott, who has recently fielded questions about his team's heart. "If we battled like that the rest of the season, play that hard, with that type of fire . . . then we'll be OK. I've been waiting for that all season."
The Cavs' last lead of the night came when guard Wayne Ellington hit a jumper for a 5-4 edge.
Atlanta wasn't particularly sharp, but managed to win consecutive games -- albeit against two of the league's least imposing opponents -- for the first time in three weeks.
"My message was very simple to our guys . . . we really head to focus on us tonight, making sure we do the things we've been doing pretty much all year," Drew said. "As the season winds down, it's important that we don't lose focus."
Cleveland shot 51 percent in the first half and outrebounded the Hawks 23-18, but the Hawks made six 3-pointers to the Cavs' one. Atlanta's Kyle Korver was good on three 3-pointers to tie Reggie Miller for the fourth-longest streak (68 games) in NBA history making at least one.
Korver was 3 for 6 behind the arc as the Hawks built a 52-44 halftime lead.
Alonzo Gee's 3-pointer drew the Cavs within 58-56 with 8:16 left in the third quarter.
"(The Cavs) were playing real carefree," Smith said.
But Cleveland would never be that close again even as Speights scored 12 straight points for the visitors in the fourth quarter.
Al Horford returned to start at center for Atlanta after missing two games with a stomach illness. He had 16 points and six rebounds before fouling out in the fourth quarter. . . . The only players with longer 3-ball streaks than Korver and Miller were Dana Barros (89), Michael Adams (79) and Dennis Scott (78). . . . Cavs guard Daniel Gibson was ejected with 7:07 left in the second quarter after drawing a pair of technical fouls. The first came for griping too passionately at official Brent Barnaky when he didn't get a foul call against Atlanta as he missed a shot. Then, Gibson and Atlanta's DeShawn Stevenson drew technicals in an ensuing debate about the situation. . . . . Cleveland's C.J. Miles missed the game with a sore right ankle. . . . Tristan Thompsonreturned to action for the Cavs despite suffering a laceration above his left eye that require three stitches.
NEW ORLEANS -- After getting off to a slow start, Greivis Vasquez was challenged by his coach at halftime. Vasquez responded with a strong third quarter to lead the New Orleans Hornets to an easy victory against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Vasquez scored 16 of his 25 points in the third quarter and the Hornets beat the slumping Cavaliers 112-92 on Sunday.
After missing two of the previous three games with an ankle injury, Vasquez was held to five points and three assists in the first half.
"(Hornets coach Monty Williams) called me out in front of everybody (at the half)," said Vasquez, who also had nine assists. "When he calls me out I got to respond. I don't take it personally."
Ryan Anderson added 23 points for the Hornets to help the team bounce back from a blowout loss to Miami on Friday night and snap a two-game skid. Anthony Davis had 17 points and 13 rebounds for his rookies-leading 17th double-double, Brian Roberts scored 15 and Eric Gordon had 14.
Kyrie Irving returned from a shoulder injury and led the Cavaliers with 31 points and six assists. Cleveland, which lost its eighth straight, was 1-7 in Irving's absence. Tristan Thompson, Wayne Ellington and Marreese Speights each scored 12 points for the Cavaliers and Shaun Livingston had 11.
The Hornets trailed 49-48 at the half but scored a season-high 36 points in the third quarter to take an 84-73 lead. Vasquez shot 6 for 6 in the quarter and Davis added 13 points, including three alley-oop dunks, all off assists by Vasquez.
"I'm just trying to get in (Vasquez's vision)," Davis said. "Every time he drives to the basket I'm just trying to get in a spot where he can find me. He tells me he's going to get it to me."
The Hornets scored 15 consecutive points early in the third quarter to take a 65-53 lead with 8:07 remaining. Vasquez and Davis combined to score 29 points in the quarter.
New Orleans increased the lead to 20 midway through the fourth quarter.
"We came out soft (in the second half)," Cavaliers coach Byron Scott said. "I did not think we came out with the same intensity that we should have. I do not know if they were just tired or whatever the case may be."
Irving appeared tentative in the first quarter, missing his only attempt and scoring two points on two free throws, although he had three assists.
The Cavaliers' guard took control in the second quarter, scoring 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting in the period. During one stretch, he scored 10 consecutive points to rally the Cavaliers from a 39-35 deficit with 3:49 remaining to a 45-43 lead at the 1:54 mark.
"I feel good," Irving said. "My body is holding up right now. I hit a few shots bit I just wanted to win."
New Orleans overcame a turnover-plagued first half by shooting 54.5 percent from the field. The Hornets committed eight turnovers in the opening period, leading to six Cleveland points, and finished with 12 for the half.
However, Hornets shooters took advantage of a passive Cavaliers defense, making 18 of 33 attempts on repeated open looks. Anderson, the Hornets' 3-point specialist, was 3 for 5 beyond the arc and finished the half with a team-high 15 points.
He finished the game 5 of 7 on 3s.
"When (the guards) penetrate they make it easy for me," Anderson said. "They take their defenders into the paint and take my defender, which leaves me open. When they're aggressive it's easy basketball and they were super aggressive for me."
New Orleans went 4-3 on its seven-game homestand that included wins against playoff contenders Boston, Denver and Memphis. ... The Cavaliers entered leading the Eastern Conference in second-chance points, averaging 15 per game, but were held to six. ... The Hornets held a 49-29 advantage in scoring by reserves.
The Philadelphia 76ers realize it's probably too late to make any sort of realistic playoff push, but a quick glance at their schedule shows they'll have some great opportunities for wins over the next week.
That far-from-intimidating stretch begins with Friday night's visit to Cleveland, where the Cavaliers are still trying to figure out how they blew a late 10-point lead en route to their sixth straight loss.
Philadelphia has the NBA's fourth-worst record (18-37) since the beginning of December, with only a 10-6 start keeping its extremely slim playoff hopes alive. The 76ers (28-43) are seven games behind eighth-place Milwaukee with 11 to play.
That deficit could have been even greater had Philadelphia not responded after blowing all of an 18-point second quarter lead to the Bucks on Wednesday. The 76ers found themselves trailing 87-83 with 8:42 left, but scored the next 15 points en route to a 100-92 win.
"It's a great feeling," Thaddeus Young told the league's official website after scoring 14 points. "We were locked in and communicating. We're focused on winning."
Young was one of six 76ers to score at least 13, with Spencer Hawes' 15-point, 17-rebound performance the key to Philadelphia's 60-46 edge in the paint. Hawes has averaged 15.8 points,10.9 boards, 4.4 assists and 2.6 blocks in his last nine games.
Hawes believes there's plenty to be gained in the season's final three weeks -- even if a playoff spot is essentially out of the question. There certainly seem to be some good chances to put together a winning streak in the next week, with two games against league-worst Charlotte up after slumping Cleveland.
"This season's been tough," Hawes said. "Going forward, we have a lot of pride. It's not just about next season, it's about finishing this season the right way."
That's what the injury-depleted Cavaliers (22-48) are trying to do as well, though they were hardly in an optimistic mood after Wednesday's 93-92 loss to Boston. Cleveland led 88-78 with just over five minutes remaining before a collapse that ended with Jeff Green's game-winning layup as time expired.
"We were looking at the clock, playing not to lose the game instead of to win the game," coach Byron Scott said. "You have to look to win. You can't hope the clock runs out and that's what we kind of did."
Scott's team, which is missing Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Anderson Varejao, has fallen apart coming out of the locker room after halftime all month. Cleveland has outscored its opponents by an average of 0.6 points during the opening 24 minutes in its 12 games in March, but has a minus-9.5 differential after the break.
Hawes and Young might be able to have their way in the paint against a Cavaliers team that actually had Luke Walton logging late minutes at center on Wednesday. Opponents have outscored Cleveland by an average of 7.8 points in the paint this month.
The Cavs held a 103-80 rebounding edge in splitting two November meetings -- both teams won at home -- but Varejao was healthy then.
Cleveland might also want to figure out a way to limit Evan Turner's impact. The third-year forward has averaged 15.5 points, 8.0 rebounds and 8.0 assists in the season series.
Associated Press 2013. All Rights reserved.
The Boston Celtics continue to slide -- and with it, their chances of improving their playoff seeding in the Eastern Conference.
Struggling to adjust in the wake of a significant injury, Boston on Wednesday night visits a Cleveland Cavaliers team that is dealing with its own injury problems and is also mired in a five-game losing streak.
The Celtics (36-34) are only a little more than two weeks removed from a five-game winning streak, but have since gone 2-7 and are a defeat away from matching a season-worst six-game skid from Jan. 16-25. They were in a three-way tie for fifth place in the East on March 16, but are now in seventh, 2 1/2 games back of sixth-place Atlanta.
Tuesday's 100-85 home loss to the Knicks marked their second straight game without Kevin Garnett, who is out with inflammation in his left ankle and a return date is uncertain. Courtney Lee also missed his second game in a row because of a sprained left ankle, with Jordan Crawford starting and scoring 14 points.
Although Garnett is the team's leading rebounder (7.8 rpg) and second-leading scorer (14.9 ppg), coach Doc Rivers doesn't buy his absence as much of an excuse.
"Kevin's not playing. I don't worry about it," Rivers said. "Overall, we were pretty bad. Kevin had nothing to do with that."
Playing without Rajon Rondo, the Celtics have struggled with turnovers, committing an average of 16.8 per game during their skid compared to opponents' 13.2. That could be trouble even against the Cavaliers (22-47), who have the league's third-fewest wins but are averaging a league-low 12.9 turnovers since New Year's Day. Cleveland is also forcing an average of 16.6 turnovers in its last five games.
Boston coughed up 20 turnovers Tuesday leading to 17 points for the Knicks.
"We've got to get back to playing with more energy, forcing a lot of turnovers like we were three or four weeks ago," said Paul Pierce, averaging 20.4 points on 53.0 percent shooting over his last 14 games. "Turning the ball over less if we're going to give ourselves a chance."
After blowing a 27-point lead to Miami last Wednesday, things got even worse for the Cavaliers in a 116-78 loss to Houston on Friday -- their largest margin of defeat this season.
"As I told our guys, it was the first game in a long time that I saw us being very disconnected on both ends of the floor," coach Byron Scott said.
Cleveland is being outrebounded by an average of 9.4 during its slide while letting opponents average 108.0 points on 50.6 percent shooting. Friday marked the ninth time in 11 games the Cavaliers were held to less than 100 points.
Kyrie Irving (shoulder) and Dion Waiters (knee) have both been ruled out. Irving, who has missed six straight, may miss the rest of the season, while Waiters is expected to be re-evaluated this week, but he's out indefinitely after missing the last two contests.
For the Celtics, Jeff Green continues to play well since making his first start of the season on Feb. 22, averaging 15.9 points in 16 games.
The teams split two earlier meetings this season, with Pierce notching a season-high 40 points on 13-of-16 shooting in a 103-91 win on Dec. 19. But he struggled in a 95-90 loss in Cleveland on Jan. 22, going 3 of 15 for 12 points with four turnovers. Irving had 40 points in that game.
WTAM 1100 7P
Associated Press 2013. All rights reserved
HOUSTON (AP) The Houston Rockets avoided the trap on Friday night and now can move on to one of their season's most challenging weeks. James Harden scored 20 points, Chandler Parsons and Omer Asik added 13 points apiece and the Rockets cruised past the cold-shooting Cleveland Cavaliers 116-78 on Friday night. Thomas Robinson scored 15 points and Greg Smith grabbed a career-high 13 rebounds off the bench for the Rockets. Asik also grabbed 11 rebounds for Houston, which has won four of five games on its current homestand.
The outcome was decided after three quarters, and Houston's starters sat out the fourth, turning their attention toward Sunday's game with San Antonio. "That was a big win for us, and now we've got an even bigger one coming up Sunday,'' Parsons said. Shaun Livingston scored 14 points for the Cavaliers, who've dropped five in a row and nine of their last 11 games.
Cleveland failed to reach 20 points in each of the last three quarters and shot 36 percent (31 of 86) for the game. Houston also had a 54-32 edge in rebounds. "As I told our guys, it was the first game in a long time that I saw us being very disconnected on both ends of the floor,'' Cleveland coach Byron Scott said. The Rockets currently hold the No. 7 spot in the Western Conference.
After the Spurs come to town, Houston faces Indiana, Memphis and the Los Angeles Clippers next week. "We could see some of these teams coming up (in the playoffs), like Memphis and the Clippers,'' Parsons said. "It's a big test for us, to see where we stand with the elite teams.''
The injury-depleted Cavaliers are hardly one of those, and the Rockets started to take control in the second quarter. Harden returned after a long rest with 6:44 remaining in the first half, promptly stole the ball from Wayne Ellington and raced for a one-handed dunk. The Rockets ranked sixth in steals (8.51 per game) coming into Friday.
Harden and Carlos Delfino sank back-to-back 3-pointers later in the quarter as the Rockets stretched the lead into double digits. Livingston and Ellington sank jumpers in the final two minutes as the Cavaliers briefly seemed to find their shooting touch.
But Delfino just beat the halftime buzzer with his second 3-pointer and Houston led 58-43 at the break. Houston outrebounded Cleveland 14-5 in the second quarter and held the Cavaliers to 7-for-18 shooting. "The entire defensive mindset was amazing,'' Harden said. "It was probably one of our best performances we've had on the defensive end all year.'' Cleveland's shooting was even worse in the third quarter and Houston blew it open.
The Rockets found little defensive resistance inside and Asik and Parsons cut inside for easy baskets early in the third quarter to extend the lead. The Rockets continued to control the boards, particularly Asik, who was fouled making his 10th rebound with 6:49 left in the third quarter. He split two free throws, then dunked 30 seconds later for a 69-51 lead.
Last month, Houston squandered 17-point leads in consecutive games and lost. Parsons knew that wasn't going to happen on Friday night. "We've had tendencies of getting big leads and then letting them (opponents) come back in,'' he said. "I thought it was big to keep our foot on the gas pedal and not look back and not let them keep climbing and give them any hope.''
Harden and backup point guard Patrick Beverley sank 3-pointers in the last two minutes of the quarter and Houston led 87-61 heading to the fourth. The Cavaliers went 6 for 24 from the field in the third quarter. "We just seemed like we were on our heels, waiting to see what they were going to do,'' Scott said. The Cavaliers blew a 27-point lead in a 98-95 loss to Miami on Wednesday night and they were once again missing their top three scorers.
Point guard Kyrie Irving (23 points per game) may miss the rest of the season with a left shoulder sprain, center Anderson Varejao (14.1 ppg) is definitely out for the year with a torn quadriceps and rookie guard Dion Waiters (14.7 ppg) is out indefinitely with a sore left knee. Scott said before the game that Waiters will be re-evaluated next week.
Notes: The Cavaliers have lost six in a row in Houston. ... Cleveland failed to reach 100 points for the ninth time in 11 games. ... Harden reached 20 points for the 57th time this season. ... Asik recorded his 29th double-double of the season and his first since March 6. ... Lin scored four points for Houston, snapping a streak of three consecutive games with at least 20.
CLEVELAND (AP) Miami's winning streak was in danger of disappearing - in Cleveland, of all places. But LeBron James wouldn't give up. "That guy right there doesn't want to lose in this building,'' teammate Dwayne Wade said, nodding toward James, who left many angry Cavaliers fans behind when he bolted for Miami as a free agent three years ago.
"Not tonight.'' James scored 25 points as the Heat overcame a 27-point deficit in the third quarter and won their 24th straight game, 98-95 over the short-handed Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night to extend the second-longest winning streak in NBA history.
The Heat are within nine games of matching the record of 33 consecutive wins held by the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers. Once believed to be untouchable, the mark is now within reach.
James and his teammates have insisted the record isn't one of their goals, and for more than 30 minutes the defending champions seemed disinterested and on the verge of losing for the first time since Feb. 1.
Miami trailed 67-40 with 7:44 left in the third quarter. But behind the irrepressible James, who added 12 rebounds and 10 assists in 42 minutes, the Heat inched closer to history and matched the NBA's biggest comeback this season, according to STATS.
"This was one of the most bizarre, unique days of my life with everything that happened,'' said James, referring to a homecoming in which a fan ran onto the floor and the opening tip was delayed 35 minutes by a leaky scoreboard.
"It also was one of the best comebacks I've ever been a part of.'' James had 14 points, seven rebounds, three assists and two steals in the fourth as Miami rallied to win for the second game in a row. The Heat were down 17 points - 13 in the fourth quarter - and stormed back to beat Boston 105-103 on Monday and surpass the 2007-08 Houston Rockets for the second-longest streak in NBA history. "I knew there was a lot of time, so we never panicked,'' James said. "We were down 27 with 18 minutes left.
That's a lifetime in basketball.''
Although the Cavs were missing All-Star guard Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Anderson Varejao - their top three scorers - they pushed Miami to the limit. It wasn't until James, playing his fourth game back in Cleveland since leaving, made two free throws with 4.7 seconds left that Miami could relax, but just a little. The Cavs had one last chance to tie it, but C.J. Miles was long with a 3-pointer in the final second, letting Miami off the hook.
Following the game, James stopped to sign a few autographs as he made his way to Miami's locker room. This was much tougher than he and the Heat could have imagined. The win also completed a five-game road trip, dubbed "The Reunion Tour'' by James because Miami visited Wade's home in Milwaukee, Chris Bosh's former team in Toronto and Ray Allen's in Boston. "The streak wasn't on my mind, but us getting blown out was,'' James said. "I was going to be the only guy to take an "L' on the reunion tour.''
Mario Chalmers added 17 points and Wade had 11 for the Heat, who outscored the Cavs 30-18 in the fourth quarter and 64-40 in the second half. Wayne Ellington had 20 points and Tristan Thompson 18 for Cleveland, which went from a stunning upset to blowing the biggest lead in a loss in franchise history. "We knew it was coming,'' Thompson said of the Heat's comeback.
"They were the NBA champions last season. They're not going to lay down. Champions don't lay down even when they're down by 27. We knew they were going to make a push. Guys went out and made plays, so you have to give them credit.''
Down by nine to open the fourth, the Heat were up 95-86 with 3:02 left and seemed to have the Cavaliers on the ropes. But Cleveland bounced back and closed to 96-95 on Thompson's two free throws with 44 seconds to go.
Wade then missed a jumper, but Ellington misfired on a step-back 23-footer with 5.2 seconds to go. James was fouled and the reigning MVP, with a sellout crowd of 20,562 roaring, stepped to the line and dropped both free throws to make it 98-95.
Miles was contested on his final shot, and once it clanked off the rim, the Heat headed home with a chance to extend their streak to 25 on Friday against Detroit. This game had a little of everything, including a fan running on the floor in the fourth quarter.
The young man was wearing a T-shirt that said: "We Miss You, 2014 Come Back,'' a reference to James' possible free agency and return to Cleveland, where he played seven seasons.
James went out of his way and patted the fan on the head as security rushed him off the floor. "He said he missed me and come back, please,'' James said. "It happened once before in (Madison Square) Garden, so I wasn't worried. There are metal detectors here, so we were OK. I embraced it.''
The start of the game was delayed because of a spill on the floor caused by condensation from a carbon dioxide container inside the scoreboard. James scored eight straight points to open the fourth, hitting a 3-pointer to tie it 77-all.
He then turned toward the crowd and delivered an icy stare, his way of saying, "OK, enough is enough.' "When he made that one and turned to the crowd,'' Wade said, "you knew it was coming.''
NOTES: Starting with the Cavs, Miami's next 10 games are against opponents with a combined winning percentage of just .399. ... The Heat play the Pistons and Charlotte at home before going to Orlando, Chicago, New Orleans and San Antonio. ... It was the first time Miami overcame a 21-point halftime deficit to win. ... The Cavs will wait a week before they evaluate Waiters, who has loose cartilage, and decide whether he needs surgery. Cleveland coach Byron Scott hopes his young guard comes back in the final month. "If he gets back, I'll be thrilled to death,'' Scott said.