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.

 

John Wall scores 37 as Wizards down LeBron James, Cavs 127-115

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CLEVELAND (AP) John Wall scored 37 points, Bradley Beal added 27 and the Washington Wizards began a challenging road trip by beating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 127-115 on Saturday night.

Wall scored 18 in the first quarter, when the Wizards shot 82 percent, and Washington held on down the stretch to avenge an overtime loss to the NBA champions last month.

James, who briefly wore goggles to protect an eye injury sustained Friday night, scored 24 and added 11 rebounds and eight assists. Kyrie Irving added 23 points and Kevin Love 17 for Cleveland, playing at home for the only time in a seven-game stretch.

Washington’s victory cut Cleveland’s lead in the Eastern Conference to a half-game over idle Boston.

Rudy Gobert calls out Jazz teammates after loss: “We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice.”

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Utah and the L.A. Clippers are almost locked into a first round, four vs. five battle in the Western Conference. The only question is which team will have home court, and the Clippers took a big step towards that beating the Jazz at home Saturday. While the Jazz still has a half-game lead, the Clippers have a much softer schedule the rest of the way.

After that loss, Jazz center Rudy Gobert was ticked off and called out his teammates. Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“We’ve got guys that compete, but some of us don’t compete. Some of us just think about scoring. That’s what it is. … Coach keeps repeating it: We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice. Those guys, we know they’re going to get calls. We’ve just got to come out aggressive and ready to fight.”

Interesting comments for a team that is third in the NBA in defensive rating and 13th in offense.

Gobert is frustrated as Utah has dropped four of its last five, and the slump has been on both ends of the court. The defense has struggled, but if guys are looking to score too much they aren’t doing it efficiently because the offense has been worse.

This slide likely costs Utah home court in the first round, which could matter in what will be a tight matchup with Los Angeles. Utah needs to find its grinding rhythm again heading into the playoffs, at their best they can knock off the Clippers in the first round. Just not like they are playing now.

One thing to watch, Utah’s Gordon Hayward asked out of the game in the fourth quarter due to what is being called a bruised muscle in his leg. If he misses any time or if this lingers, it could be trouble for the Jazz in the postseason.

 

LeBron James starts game with protective goggles. That lasts about a minute.

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LeBron James suffered a scratched cornea Friday night when he went up for a layup late in the third quarter and Jeremy Lamb tried to contest and caught him clean across the face. LeBron got the and-1, but had trouble keeping his eye open in postgame interviews Friday.

Saturday he did play — wearing protective goggles. As you can see above.

That lasted about a minute.

LeBron was likely frustrated as the Cavaliers defensive woes had the Wizards up double digits much of the first half.

Kobe Bryant says he’s “only a phone call away” if organization needs his advice

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For the first time since he walked off the court in his final game, Kobe Bryant was back at Staples Center Friday night.

The reason was Shaquille O’Neal was getting a statue out in front of Staples Center (a building that may not have gotten built without the two of them). The two famed feuders sat next to each other and joked around through the ceremony. Time heals all wounds.

With the new management of the Lakers — specifically Kobe’s former agent Rob Pelinka as GM — there has been speculation Kobe could take on a role. He’s not looking for something formal, according to reports, but he didn’t say no, either, when asked.

I picture Kobe as a guy who someday buys a team, not a guy who wants to haggle with agents over the details of a contract. He’s not going to take on a day-to-day role, he likes the retired life and what he is building with the Kobe brand.

That said, the Lakers front office can use all the smart voices it can get as they try speed up a rebuild. They should give him a call every once in a while.