LeBron James, Cavaliers end rough March with 122-105 win over 76ers

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CLEVELAND (AP) — LeBron James scored 34 points, Kyrie Irving dropped 24 and the Cleveland Cavaliers ended a turbulent and troublesome March with an easy 122-105 win over the injury-weakened Philadelphia 76ers on Friday night.

James made 14 of 22 shots in 30 minutes as the Cavs ended a three-game losing streak and won for just the third time in eight games to end the month 7-10.

It’s been an alarming stretch for the NBA champions, who are running out of time to get tuned up for the postseason. But against the lowly Sixers, Cleveland regained some of its swagger before heading into April when the real fun begins.

Kevin Love added 18 points and 10 rebounds as the Cavs won their ninth straight over the Sixers.

Richaun Holmes and rookie Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot scored 19 apiece for Philadelphia, which only dressed nine players after shutting down Jahlil Okafor and Robert Covington for the remainder of the season with knee injuries.

The Cavs have been shaky for some time with defensive issues, injuries and inconsistency leading to questions about whether they can repeat. Following Thursday’s loss in Chicago, the Cavs held a players-only meeting to clear the air.

“Guys talked,” coach Tyronn Lue said before the game. “Now we’ve got to move on and play. We’ve done enough talking over the last couple weeks. Now we just gotta settle in, we gotta play.”

They finally did just that, blowing the game open in the second quarter by outscoring the Sixers 38-23. James had two dunks in a span of 15 seconds as Cleveland built a 23-point lead.

Love knocked down a pair of 3-pointers early in the third and the Cavs entertained their crowd with a few alley-oop dunks while opening their lead to 32.

James, who was pulled 90 seconds into the fourth, was in a foul mood following Thursday’s game. He was on the floor Friday at Quicken Loans Arena about two hours before tip-off to get up some shots, something he routinely does for important games.

Given the state of the Cavs, this one was significant.

Cleveland came in trailing Boston by a half-game for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

TIP-INS

76ers: Rookie F Dario Saric went 3 of 12, 1 of 7 on 3s. … Philadelphia decided it was best to sit Okafor (sore right knee) and Covington (swollen right knee) for the last seven games to get them ready for next season. It’s possible Covington will need surgery after an MRI revealed torn meniscus. Those injuries are the latest for the hobbled Sixers, who lost Joel Embiid earlier this month and never got top pick Ben Simmons on the floor after he broke his foot before the season.

Cavaliers: Improved to 15-1 against Atlantic Division teams. … Cleveland was once again short-handed as F Richard Jefferson (left knee tendinitis) and G Kyle Korver (left knee soreness) sat out. Lue didn’t know when either will return. … World B. Free, who played for the Cavs from 1982-86, was honored during a timeout in the first quarter. A fan favorite, Free rarely passed up a shot while averaging 23 points in 275 games for Cleveland. Free broke in with the Sixers in 1975. … Lue said meetings are only effective “if you did something about it. We had a couple of meetings and now we have to do something about it. We can talk all we want but until we perform it means nothing.”

 

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

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James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

Mavericks sign Jeff Withey to one-year contract

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Jeff Withey‘s ex-fiancée accused him of domestic violence, but he was not charged.

That frees him to continue his basketball career, which he’ll do in Dallas.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks could use another center, even if they re-sign Nerlens Noel. Salah Mejri is the only other true center, though Dirk Nowitzki will now play the position.

Withey is a good rim protector. Just don’t ask him to do anything away from the basket.

Dallas annually brings excess players to training camp and has them compete for regular-season roster spots. Whether or not his salary is guaranteed, Withey will likely fall into that competition.

Marc Gasol: If Grizzlies don’t share my goal of continued growth, we might have to revisit things

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The Grizzlies’ Grit & Grind era has ended.

Zach Randolph signed with the Kings, and Tony Allen appears likely to leave Memphis, too. The Grizzlies are prioritizing younger/cheaper players like Ben McLemore and Tyreke Evans.

Marc Gasol via Ala Carta, as translated by HoopsHype:

I’m very ambitious and I’ve wanted Memphis to be a great franchise. We’ve grown a lot the last 6-7 years, but we have to keep growing. If this is not lined up, maybe we may have to revisit things.

Gasol has been loyal to Memphis, and his first wish is probably winning there. But Giannis Antetokounmpo put it well: Teams must also do right by their players. Gasol is 32 and doesn’t have much time in his prime left. I see why rebuilding wouldn’t interest him.

But what will he do about it if the Grizzlies don’t prioritize the present? They made their push last summer with a max contract for Chandler Parsons, but because Parsons can’t stay healthy, that deal only inhibits team growth.

Gasol is locked up for two more years before a player option. He doesn’t have much leverage. This is part of the reason LeBron James keeps signing short-term contracts. Gasol doesn’t have the same ability to steer his team in his desired direction

On the potentially bright side, rebuilding teams often don’t have much use for 32-year-olds guaranteed more than $72 million over the following three years. If the fit devolves, Memphis becomes more likely to trade him.

Celtics to retire Paul Pierce’s number after Cavaliers game in February

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The Celtics already said they’d retire Paul Pierce’s No. 34.

Now, we know when.

Celtics release:

The Boston Celtics announced today that they will retire Paul Pierce’s No. 34 after a mid-season game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday, Feb. 11

After? That’s apparently in response to a new rule that penalizes teams not ready to play after a 15-minute halftime. These ceremonies can drag on, and nobody wants to cut Pierce short. I wonder whether this will start a trend of number retirements coming after games.