LeBron James, Cavaliers hold off Suns 120-116

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PHOENIX (AP) — LeBron James scored 12 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter and the Cleveland Cavaliers fought off Phoenix down the stretch to beat the Suns 120-116 on Sunday night.

Kyrie Irving added 27 points and Kevin Love 25 for the Cavaliers. They led by as many as 22 in the first half and 20 early in the third quarter.

The Suns tied it late in the third and got within one in the fourth but never took the lead.

Eric Bledsoe scored 31 points and Devin Booker had 28 for the Suns.

James sank consecutive 3-pointers, his only 3s of the game, to give Cleveland a 115-109 lead with 2:46 to play and scored on a driving layup with 44 seconds left to make it 120-114.

The young Suns got their running game going to outscore Cleveland 25-7 and Tyson Chandler‘s inside basket cut the Cav’ lead to 84-82 with 3:31 left in the third quarter.

Phoenix tied it twice before the quarter ended, the last at 90 when Booker banked in an 8-footer with 11.2 seconds left, but Irving sank a 3 at the buzzer and Cleveland led entering the fourth 93-90.

The Sun got within one three times early in the final quarter, the last at 98-97 on Booker’s left-handed drive with 9:37 left. After Phoenix rookie Dragan Bender missed a 3, Irving sank one, then added an acrobatic driving layup to put the Cavaliers up 104-98 with 7:38 left.

The Suns still were down only 109-107 after Marquese Chriss made one of two free throws with 4:28 to play but James sank his first three to boost it to 112-107. Bledsoe’s layup cut it to 112-109, and James sank his second 3 to make it a six-point game. Phoenix never got closer than four after that.

NOT YET

Kyle Korver, acquired in a trade with the Atlanta Hawks, joined his new Cleveland teammates Sunday afternoon but couldn’t play because physicals and paperwork still had to be completed to finalize the deal that sent Mike Dunleavy, Mo Williams a protected first-round pick and cash considerations to the Hawks.

Korver could make his Cleveland debut Tuesday night at Utah.

TIP-INS

Cavaliers: James became the 14th player in NBA history to reach 10,000 career field goals. … Cleveland scored 21 points off 11 Phoenix turnovers in the first half.

Suns: The 69 points matched the most allowed by Phoenix in the first half this season. … Phoenix had won two in a row. The Suns have not won three in a row all season. … Phoenix is 8-5 against the Eastern Conference. … Olympic swim champion Michael Phelps sat next to Suns owner Robert Sarver at courtside.

 

PBT Extra: LeBron as MVP and other NBA postseason award predictions

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Last year, Russell Westbrook had a historic season on his way to the MVP award, with James Harden and Kawhi Leonard right on his heels. But heading into this season, the dynamic for MVP — and many of the NBA awards — feels very different and wide open.

In this latest PBT Extra, I lay out my preseason predictions for every award — LeBron James for MVP, Ben Simmons for Rookie of the Year, and on down the list. There are a few leaps and surprises in there (predicting Most Improved or Sixth Man before the season is a crap shoot, so why not gamble).

Now the predictions season is over, let’s get on to the games.

Jazz: Dante Exum undergoing surgery after shoulder injury

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Jazz point guard Dante Exum hurt his shoulder in a preseason game – an injury that immediately looked like it could be season-ending.

Though Utah doesn’t outright say Exum is done for the year, this doesn’t engender much hope.

Jazz release:

The following is a medical update on Utah Jazz guard Danté Exum who suffered a separated left shoulder on October 6 vs. Phoenix.

After further evaluation, Exum (6-6, 190, Australia) has elected to undergo surgery to stabilize the AC joint of his left shoulder. The surgery is scheduled to take place Tuesday, October 24 in Los Angeles. Further updates will be provided when appropriate.

Exum (obviously) didn’t receive a contract extension before today’s deadline, so he’ll become a free agent next summer. After one full missed season already and two years of limited effectiveness, it’s not even clear Utah will extend Exum a qualifying offer to make him a restricted free agent. The former No. 5 pick almost certainly won’t meet the starter criteria, which means his qualifying offer would be worth $4,333,931 (down from $6,619,903 based on his draft slot).

The Jazz will start Ricky Rubio, and Raul Neto will be the primary point guard behind him. Wings Rodney Hood, Alec Burks, Donovan Mitchell and Joe Ingles can all share facilitating duties.

Utah will probably be just fine without Exum this season, which speaks to his marginal place long-term.

Sprained ankle has LeBron James questionable for opener vs. Celtics

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — LeBron James‘ playing status for Tuesday’s season opener against Boston remains unclear.

James has been slowed by a sprained left ankle for more than two weeks and it’s still not known whether he’ll be on the floor when the Cavaliers take on the Celtics and Kyrie Irving, who asked to be traded by Cleveland this summer.

Following Monday’s practice, Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said “I really don’t know” when asked if James will play.

James took part in some post-practice shooting drills with teammates. He did not speak with the media as the Cavaliers prepared for their opener, a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference finals.

James has never missed an opener in his NBA career, and teammate J.R. Smith doesn’t expect him to miss this one.

“Oh, he’s going to go,” Smith said. “He’s going to go, trust me that. I don’t care what he’s got to do, he’s going to play.”

 

Report: Richard Jefferson signing with Nuggets

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Update: The Nuggets will waive Jameer Nelson, according to Wojnarowski:

It looks like Denver will ride with the younger Jamal Murray and Emmanuel Mudiay at point guard — a risky proposition. Nelson stabilized the position in the event Murray or Mudiay weren’t ready for bigger roles. The Nuggets aren’t hedging their bets now, which puts plenty of pressure on Murray and Mudiay.

Murray should be fine eventually. Mudiay’s promise is far less certain. But this is a team trying to reach the playoffs now, and it might have to ride out growing pains from its point guards without Nelson as a safety net.

 

Richard Jefferson became a late entrant into free agency when the Cavaliers traded him and the Hawks waived him.

But the forward is landing on his feet.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Jefferson could help the Nuggets, who look primed to end a four-season playoff drought. They were set to squeeze backup small-forward minutes behind Wilson Chandler out of the undersized Will Barton and oversized Juan Hernangomez. Jefferson is far more comfortable at the position.

He’s 37 and doesn’t offer long-term upside, but he’s a savvy defender and still pretty athletic. He picks his spots well enough offensively to help on that end, too.

But Denver also has a deep roster that already had 15 players on standard contracts. There’s not an obvious cut to make room for Jefferson, though the Nuggets clearly have something planned.