Irving, LeBron pace Cavs to 107-91 win over Thunder

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CLEVELAND (AP) Kyrie Irving scored 29 points, LeBron James had 25 and 14 rebounds and the Cleveland Cavaliers played one of their better all-around games in weeks, beating Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder 107-91 on Sunday.

The Cavs have won two straight after the NBA champions lost six of eight amid internal turmoil sparked by James criticizing the team’s roster following a recent loss.

But while not forgotten, the chaos has calmed down a bit and a quality win sure helps.

Westbrook finished with 20 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists for his 24th triple-double, but only made 7 of 26 shots for the Thunder, who had won three straight.

Cleveland All-Star forward Kevin Love didn’t play in the second half because of back spasms. Love has been dealing with back issues since he came to Cleveland and he missed a game earlier this month with spasms.

James became the first player in Cavaliers history to score 20,000 points for the franchise. He came in needing six points to hit the plateau and reached it with a layup early in the second quarter.

Oklahoma City played its first game without reserve center Enes Kanter. He broke his right forearm punching a chair Thursday in a win over Dallas, had surgery Friday and will be out at least a month.

Leading by 13 at halftime, the Cavs let the Thunder get back within eight before Irving put on a show with several drives to the basket.

Showing off his magnificent dribbling skills to open space and tie up defenders, Irving scored three layups in a span of 58 seconds to put Cleveland back up by 17.

Oklahoma City made a run with Westbrook on the bench in the fourth, getting within 82-75 but Irving scored a pair of layups and later drained a 30-foot 3-pointer to give the Cavs a 98-82 lead.

Wearing a Michael Jackson-inspired red leather “Thriller” jacket, Westbrook walked into the arena about two hours before tip-off with Jackson’s “Don’t Stop `Til You Get Enough” playing from the speakers near the security entrance.

It was fitting musical accompaniment for Westbrook, who joined Oscar Robertson as the only players to average at least 30 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists through the first 40-plus games. Robertson averaged a triple-double for the entire 1961-62 season.

Westbrook, though, struggled with his shot as the Cavs did all they could to slow him down.

TIP-INS

Thunder: Westbrook’s 24 triple-doubles are the most in a season since Wilt Chamberlain had 31 in 1967-68. … It was Oklahoma City’s 11th road game of 12 in January. … Coach Billy Donovan said it’s a misconception that Westbrook is selfish. “He understands he’s part of a team and he’s always wanted to be part of a team,” Donovan said. “He’s one of the league leaders in assists. He generates a lot offense for other guys. He gets in there and helps rebound in the frontcourt. He’s found that balance.” … Donovan played against Irving’s father, Drederick, in college when he was at Providence and the elder Irving was at Boston University. “We beat him in the NIT,” Donovan said. “I think. That was 30 years ago.”

Cavaliers: Tristan Thompson had 19 points and 12 rebounds. … James has scored nearly twice as many points as Cleveland’s No. 2 career scorer Zydrunas Ilgauskas (10,616). James scored 7,919 points during his four seasons with Miami. … Cleveland is 29-6 in its last 35 home games against Western Conference teams. … Cleveland made eight 3-pointers after dropping at least 13 in five straight games.

UP NEXT

Thunder: At San Antonio on Tuesday.

Cavaliers: At Dallas on Monday, the first of three back-to-backs before the All-Star break.

Stan Van Gundy backs off feud with ESPN ahead of televised Pistons game

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Pistons president/coach Stan Van Gundy said he wouldn’t give ESPN its usual access – a private pre-game meeting and an in-game interview – in the aftermath of ESPN publishing LaVar Ball’s negative comments about Lakers coach Luke Walton.

The first test of Van Gundy’s new policy comes with today’s Pistons-Wizards game on ESPN… and Van Gundy is mostly backing down.

Van Gundy, via Rod Beard of The Detroit News:

“I got an email from Rick Carlisle of the coaches association and they want me to cooperate, so my whole idea was to boycott the thing in support of coaches,” Van Gundy said. “If the coaches don’t want that, then it would be a selfish thing, sort of a grandstanding thing.”

“I’m certainly not looking to do extra stuff with ESPN.com when those guys call and want to do things,” Van Gundy said. “They want to put themselves out there as a journalistic enterprise — they’re clearly not. They don’t have any journalistic standards. I have no obligation to do anything extra.”

Many media members have quoted Ball on a variety of issues. Coaches threw a fit over this one because they’re sensitive to coaches being criticized. It wasn’t about journalistic ethics or the source. Van Gundy and other coaches simply didn’t like Ball’s conclusion.

I’m so glad Van Gundy is no longer grandstanding. [extreme sarcasm]

He’s not obligated to speak with ESPN reporters, but when Van Gundy rails on journalistic standards as cover for disagreeing with the opinion a journalist published, he sounds a lot like the guy he loves to criticize.

Pistons’ Jon Leuer to undergo season-ending surgery

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Jon Leuer‘s ankles survived this.

But apparently they’re not invincible.

Rod Beard of The Detroit News:

After suffering a sprained ankle on Oct. 31, the symptoms worsened, as an exam revealed bone fragments and other issues. Leuer has missed the last 35 games and has decided to have season-ending ankle surgery, he told The Detroit News on Friday.

Leuer, 28, has scheduled the procedure to remove bone fragments for next Friday and will have a four-month rehabilitation process.

The Pistons have applied to the NBA for a disabled-player exception

The Pistons have been without Leuer for a while, and they’ve done fine without him. Anthony Tolliver is a capable backup stretch four, and Henry Ellenson adds even more insurance there. Detroit misses Leuer as a stretch center, providing a different style behind Andre Drummond, but Eric Moreland and Boban Marjanovic have at least decently handled those reserve minutes.

The bigger issue: The Pistons are paying Leuer $10,497,319 this season and owe him $19,510,724 over the next two years and don’t miss him that much. He’s a luxury they don’t need and maybe can’t afford.

Perhaps, they’ll deal him before the trade deadline, as they look to upgrade the roster for a playoff run. Detroit could send Leuer and a draft pick or young player (Stanley Johnson) for a better player on a more favorable contract. How about Leuer and a first-round pick to the Bulls for Nikola Mirotic?

A disabled-player exception (DPE) would be worth $5,248,660, half Leuer’s salary. It could be used to sign a free agent for the rest of the season or trade for a player in the final year of his contract.

But the NBA grants a DPE only if a league-appointed physician rules the player is “substantially more likely than not” to be unable to play through June 15. The reported timeline would have Leuer back in May.

Still, the league tends to be lax with giving out DPEs. Detroit has a chance to get one.

The Pistons are just $2,745,417 below the luxury-tax line. So, they’re unlikely to use a full Leuer DPE to acquire another player (and would still need to clear a roster spot). But it could be helpful in facilitating a bigger trade.

PBT Podcast: All-Star starters mock draft, picking reserves

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The votes are in, and LeBron James and Stephen Curry are your All-Star captains.

For the first time in NBA All-Star history, that means they are picking their own teams, playground style, first from the pool of starters, then the pool of reserves. Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports take on the roles of LeBron and Curry and pick their All-Star starters, from James Harden through Kyrie Irving.

Then the pair gets into who should be the All-Star Game reserves — and choosing among the Western Conference guards is brutal. Do they leave out Damian Lillard? Lou Williams? Klay Thompson? And that’s not even getting into Paul George being a bubble All-Star in a deep West.

Kurt and Dan break it all down, plus talk some Kemba Walker trade scenarios.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

Aaron Gordon forgoes desperation attempt to win, sinks halfcourt shot instead (video)

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The Magic were in dire straights near the end of their game against the Cavaliers last night. Orlando trailed 104-103 with 0.2 seconds and a jump ball to be tossed at center court. By rule, the Magic didn’t have time to catch-and-shoot, let alone recover the jump ball then shoot. Aaron Gordon had to tip the jump ball through the hoop from halfcourt – nearly impossible, but technically possible.

Instead, Gordon grabbed the jump ball – a violation – then sank a halfcourt shot. What an ironic end.

Cleveland then harmlessly inbounded the ball to seal the win.