Associated Press

LeBron can’t do it alone as Jimmy Butler, Bulls down Cavs 106-94

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CLEVELAND (AP) — LeBron James was reminded what it’s like to be Cleveland’s only star.

Lonesome and no fun.

Jimmy Butler took over in the fourth quarter, scoring 10 straight points during a critical stretch and leading the Chicago Bulls to a 106-94 win Wednesday night over the Cavaliers, who had a less-than-100 percent James and were without Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.

Butler, who was coming off a 52-point game against Charlotte, scored 14 of his 20 points in the fourth as the Bulls held off Cleveland’s rally and ended the Cavs’ 13-game winning streak with James in the lineup.

Butler said Dwyane Wade, who returned to his hometown this summer, encouraged his new teammate to take control.

“The guy who wears No. 3 on this team came to me and was like, `Win the game,”‘ Butler said. “So I guess a switch cut on. I knew I was going to have to do that in the fourth anyway, but with him telling me that, you can’t let D-Wade down.

“He’s been doing it for years. It was my time to step up.”

James, who has been battling a head cold for several days, was questionable until about 20 minutes before the game, when the Cavs announced he would be the one – and only – member of Cleveland’s “Big 3” in uniform. He finished with 31 points, eight rebounds and seven assists in 37 minutes.

James was forced to go it alone as Irving missed his third straight game with a hamstring issue that appears to be more serious than first diagnosed and Love is still recovering from a nasty case of food poisoning.

James said there was never any question he would play.

“If I can walk, I can go,” he said, “unless coach tells me to sit down. My plan was to play.”

But without Irving and Love, the Cavs didn’t have enough firepower to slow the Bulls, who got 17 points from Doug McDermott and made a season-high 13 3-pointers.

The Bulls made just 1 of 8 3s in the first quarter before finding their range. They dropped 11 of their next 14 and built a 15-point lead when James went to the bench with 3:30 left in the third quarter.

But Cleveland’s reserves cut Chicago’s lead to four when James returned with 8:49 remaining. He made two straight layups to pull the Cavs within 89-88 and was driving for the go-ahead bucket when Butler stepped in front of him in the lane and drew a charge.

“He’s coming at you full speed, that’s the right play to make,” Butler said. “It could go either way, obviously. You’ve got to brace yourself. I got all my pads here somewhere. We’ve got all of that for a reason.”

James didn’t argue about the foul.

“It was a good call,” James said.

Butler then hit a 3-pointer on the next possession, and Cleveland never got closer than eight and had its home winning streak ended at nine.

ROAD AHEAD

The Cavs are set to embark on a season-long, six-game road trip. James was asked if it’s coming at a good time with the injury and illnesses.

“I don’t know until we know who’s active,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s going to be a good time or not until we know who’s active and who’s playing. See what happens.”

WADE’S KNEE

Wade scored 10 points in 27 minutes after missing Monday’s game with a swollen left knee. He said it feels better but the team will monitor him closely.

“This is a grueling month,” Wade said. “We have four back-to-backs. We want to play it smart, find gaps, find days to get through it.”

TIP-INS

Bulls: Starting PG Rajon Rondo didn’t play for the third straight game amid talk that he could be traded. … Chicago came in leading the league with 13.7 offensive rebounds and grabbed 12.

Cavaliers: Cleveland fell to 18-3 at home. … James played in his 724th game with Cleveland, passing Danny Ferry (723) for the second most in franchise history. Zydrunas Ilgauskas (771) is the career club leader. … Love received several IVs during his recovery from food poisoning, which the team said came from eating sea bass on New Year’s Eve. Lue said the forward lost 10 pounds and had not gotten his strength back. “He couldn’t keep food down,” Lue said, adding Cleveland’s training staff felt he needed another day to recuperate. … Even before the flu bug bit Cleveland, the Cavs were already without J.R. Smith (thumb surgery) and Chris Andersen (ACL tear). … Indians free agent prize Edwin Encarnacion received a loud ovation when he was introduced during the first quarter.

 

Hawks, coach Mike Budenholzer agree to part ways

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This was expected.

It was pretty obvious Mike Budenholzer didn’t want to stick around and lose a lot of games with the Atlanta Hawks as they rebuild the next few years, especially after he had been stripped of his GM powers. Budenholzer went well down the road with the Phoenix Suns about their open coaching position before thinking better of it. Since then he has set up a meeting with the Knicks about their coaching vacancy, a job he reportedly wants badly.

At this point there was no need for the Hawks and Budenholzer to continue their sham marriage, so they have agreed to amicably separate, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and since confirmed by the Hawks.

Budenholzer said this to Wojnarowski of ESPN:

“I am grateful for the five years that I spent as coach of the Atlanta Hawks, and will always cherish the incredible contributions, commitment and accomplishments of the players that I was fortunate enough to work with here,” Budenholzer told ESPN on Wednesday night. “From ownership to management, support staff to the community, I’ll look back with great pride on what we were able to achieve together with the Hawks.”

For Budenholzer, the long-time Spurs assistant and a strong Xs and Os coach, look for him to both push for the Knicks job and be in the running if/when the Milwaukee Bucks job opens up whenever their season ends. In both cases he’s a fit — those are teams that need a culture and system reset, and Budenholzer proved he can bring that to Atlanta (that was a good team before they let Al Horford and Paul Millsap walk for nothing).

With Atlanta, they likely will turn to a top assistant coach who will get a chance to develop young players on that team (and not cost Atlanta as much as an established coach). Stephen Silas of the Hornets is a rumored name, but there are others.

LeBron James overrules controversial finish with game-winning 3-pointer (video)

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LeBron James‘ turnover with the game tied late looked like a bad call. LeBron’s block of Victor Oladipo on the ensuing possession looked like a goaltend.

Did the Cavaliers get robbed of a crucial possession? Did the Pacers get robbed of two go-ahead points?

LeBron nullified those questions with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give Cleveland a 98-95 win and a 3-2 series lead. The game-winner capped a great game by LeBron (44 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists) and moves the Cavs to the verge of advancing.

When a team with home-court advantage can close out a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6, it has 52% of the time. It has won the series 92% of the time.

The odds are even better with LeBron. LeBron has won 11 straight closeout games, nine of them on the road. He’ll have another opportunity Friday with Game 6 in Indiana.

Raptors’ ‘culture reset’ shines in Game 5 win over Wizards

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The Raptors promoted ball movement. They emphasized 3-point shooting. They empowered their reserves.

This was why.

Backups Delon Wright and C.J. Miles and starting center Jonas Valanciunas – who was benched in previous postseasons due to his old-fashioned style, but expanded his game beyond the arc this year – scored Toronto’s final 18 points in a 108-98 Game 5 win over the Wizards on Wednesday. Stars DeMar DeRozan (0-for-4 from the field) and Kyle Lowry (0-for-1 from the field, 0-for-2 on free throws) struggled down the stretch, as the Raptors burst open what had been a one-point lead.

Though DeRozan (32 points) and Lowry (17 points and 10 assists) were good overall, they succumbed late in previous playoff games. Toronto didn’t want that duo stuck with the burden of creating so much in a stagnate offense.

Hence, Masai Ujiri’s famous “culture reset.”

The results have been mixed so far against a tougher-than-average-eight-seed Washington. But at least the Raptors – up 3-2 entering Friday’s Game 6 in Washington – are on the verge of advancing.

When a team with home-court advantage can close out a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6, it has 52% of the time. It has won the series 92% of the time.

Raptors honor victims of van attack before Game 5 (photos)

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TORONTO (AP) — The Toronto Raptors honored the victims the deadly van attack Monday with a moment of silence Wednesday night before Game 5 of their playoff series against the Washington Wizards.

Players from both teams held up banners with the hashtag #TORONTOSTRONG as they stood on the court during the tribute and the national anthems that followed:

The Raptors, the Wizards and the NBA will make a donation to a fund for victims and those affected by the incident.

Raptors President Masai Ujiri spoke about the attack after the Raptors practiced Tuesday.

“What we do doesn’t really matter sometimes,” Ujiri said. “I can’t imagine what it would be like to be on that sidewalk.”

Guard Kyle Lowry said he was impressed by the actions of Const. Ken Lam, who earned international acclaim for peacefully arresting of suspect Alek Minassian.

“In America he would definitely have been shot up,” Lowry said. “He did an amazing job of making a judgment call. I think more people could learn from that.”

Coach Dwane Casey was struck by how close the carnage occurred to his own Toronto neighborhood,

“It’s not too far from up the street from where I live,” Casey said.

Casey and his coaches were in the midst of a meeting Monday afternoon when assistant Rex Kalamian’s phone buzzed with someone informing him of the tragedy. The coaches stopped their meeting and turned on a television to find out what had happened.

“It’s very unfortunate,” Casey said. “Just this weekend I was talking to people saying how safe Toronto is, how it’s a melting pot and you don’t have the same crime. Hopefully though, sport can offer a relief, some reprieve.”

Like Casey, Ujiri said he is proud of Toronto’s reputation as a safe, welcoming place.

“Everywhere I go, I brag about this city,” Ujiri said. “It’s the safest place in the world. It’s the best city in the world and it’s going to continue to be the best place and the best city in the world.”

Toronto police said the 10 people killed and 14 injured in the attack were “predominantly” women, but have declined so far to discuss a motive. The 25-year-old Minassian has been charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 13 counts of attempted murder.