James, Irving lead Cavaliers to 5th straight victory

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WASHINGTON (AP) LeBron James scored 34 points, Kyrie Irving took over in the fourth quarter and the Cleveland Cavaliers survived a second-half charge to beat the injury-ravaged Washington Wizards 121-115 on Wednesday night for their fifth straight victory.

Irving scored 21 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter of just his seventh game of the season, including a run of 10 straight that put the game away.

James had 10 rebounds, and J.R. Smith added 25 points for Cleveland.

Garrett Temple led the Wizards with 21 points, and John Wall had 20. Playing without Kris Humphries, DeJuan Blair and Drew Gooden, Washington lost its second straight game.

The Wizards got off to a strong start with one of their best first quarters in recent weeks as James missed some of his early looks. When Wall poked the ball away from Irving and sprung Dudley for an uncontested dunk midway through the first, Cleveland coach David Blatt called timeout with his team trailing 13-8.

Washington led going into the second and was up 35-28 when Ramon Sessions hit a 3-pointer. A few minutes later, Smith tied it for the first time at 35 and then made another 3-pointer to give the Cavs their first lead at 40-37.

Those baskets were part of a 13-2 run that ended with a technical foul on Wizards coach Randy Wittman for arguing with the referees. When James turned up the pressure and took over the game, the Cavaliers extended their lead to 12 by halftime.

James found his long-range stroke early in the second half, connecting on 3-pointers on four of five possessions. The Cavaliers led by as many as 18 during a dominant stretch.

When James dunked through traffic to make it 80-67, it looked like a statement of just how much Cleveland controlled the game.

Instead, the Wizards roared back. A layup and free throw by Otto Porter Jr. cut the Cavaliers’ lead to five with 2:05 left in the third quarter.

Washington had a chance to tie it with the third-quarter clock running out, Kevin Love stole the ball from Wall and Smith hit a buzzer-beating 3 to give the Cavs some breathing room.

It didn’t turn out to be too much, though, as the Wizards tied it at 95 early in the fourth quarter on a layup by Sessions. A turnover by Irving led to that basket.

As bad as Irving looked on that one play, he made up for it several times over in the minutes following. He scored 10 straight points while the Wizards were held off the board to make it 105-95 Cleveland.

SPARE THE BOWLING

When the Cavaliers embarked on a long trip last season, players went bowling to try to shake off a six-game skid. Blatt didn’t have plans for anything like that as his team opened a six-game road swing.

“Sometimes desperation leads to wondrous thinking,” Blatt said. “And I think that was an example of that.”

TIP-INS

Cavaliers: Cleveland played its fourth game of the season with a starting lineup of James, Love, Tristan Thompson, Smith and Irving and improved to 4-0 with it. … Thompson, who Wittman called a “beast on the boards,” finished with just three rebounds.

Wizards: Nene returned from a 19-game absence with a strained left calf and Gary Neal was back in the lineup after missing five games with a strained right quadriceps muscle. … The crowd of 20,356 was the fifth sellout of the season at Verizon Center.

UP NEXT

Cavaliers: At Minnesota on Friday night.

Wizards: Host Toronto on Friday night.

Scoot Henderson says he has skills to be No.1 pick but not hung up on it

Metropolitans 92 v G League Ignite
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Scoot Henderson came out like a man on a mission Tuesday night against the Metropolitans 92 and Victor Wembanyama — he was in attack mode. He used his explosive athleticism to get to the rim, his impressive body control to get off good shots, and his strength to finish with authority. And if the defender played back, he would drain the jumper over him.

A year ago, Jaylen Brown called him the best 17-year-old he’d ever seen. Scoot is better than that now.

Many years, Henderson would be a clear No.1 overall pick. But, not this year, Wembanyama has that crown because he breaks the mold with his size and skill set (in the NBA, height still wins out).

Kevin O’Conner of The Ringer asked Henderson why he should be the top prospect and got a confident answer.

There will be a lot of people making the Henderson case this season — and with good reason. He could be a franchise cornerstone player for the next decade.

Henderson, however, is trying not to get hung up on No.1 vs. No.2.

There’s a long list of legendary players selected No.2: Bill Russell, Kevin Durant, Jerry West, Jason Kidd, and that is just the tip of the iceberg. Henderson can be one of them.

Unless Wembanyama’s medicals come back with red flags, he is destined to be the No.1 pick next June. That, however, will not be the end of Henderson’s story. Instead, it will be just the beginning.

Doc Rivers says he wants Harden to be ‘a scoring Magic Johnson’

Philadelphia 76ers Media Day
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We’re not in Houston anymore.

James Harden in Philadelphia will not be chasing scoring titles and dominating the game in quite the same way. Instead, he’s been asked to be more of a facilitator — but not too much of one. Doc Rivers told the team at ESPN’s NBA Today he wants scoring to go with the facilitating. Just like one of the all-time greats.

“I think we’ve talked so much about him being a facilitator… I need him to be James Harden too. If I had to combine, I would say a scoring Magic Johnson, I don’t know, but that’s what I want him to be. I want him to be a James Harden, but in that, I want him to also be the facilitator of this basketball team too. So in a lot of ways, his role is growing bigger for our team, and I just want him to keep thinking, ‘Do both.'”

Just play like Magic, no pressure there. For his career, Magic averaged 19.5 points a game (with four over 20 PPG) with 11.2 assists.

Harden can get close enough to Rivers’ lofty goals to make Philly a real threat, so long as defenders still fear his first step and step back. Harden can get his shot and get to the line, and he’s long been a great passer who has averaged 10.5 assists a game over the past two seasons. Now it’s just a matter of finding the balance of when to set up Joel Embiid, when to turn the offense over to Tyrese Maxey, and when to get his own shot.

Philadelphia is a deep team poised to win a lot of regular season games — the Sixers being the top seed in the East is absolutely in play. The questions Harden — and, to a degree, Embiid — have to answer come in May, when the second round of the playoffs start and Harden has faded while Embiid has had poor injury luck. In a deep East with Milwaukee, Boston, and maybe Miami and Brooklyn in the contender mix, there is no margin for error.

A Magic-like Harden would be a big boost for the Sixers in that setting.

As he chases record, LeBron says he has ‘no relationship’ with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Sacramento Kings v Los Angeles Lakers
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Later this season, health permitting, LeBron James will pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.

Kareem has said LeBron has earned it, but also has called out LeBron on COVID issues (something Abdul-Jabbar apologized for). Have the two legends started to build a relationship as LeBron marches toward the record? Not so much.

“No thoughts, no relationship.”

This question was asked of LeBron days after Abdul-Jabbar slammed former LeBron teammate Kyrie Irving in a Substack newsletter, calling him a “comical buffoon” and saying he is a poor role model. Abdul-Jabbar has been a vocal proponent of getting the vaccine, Irving remains unvaccinated, and LeBron has posted on social media questioning the severity of the virus and the response. Plus, LeBron and Irving are friends, which could have sparked LeBron’s terse response (as could the fact he was ready to get out of the arena after a dull preseason game).

A week earlier at media day, LeBron had been kinder when discussing Abdul-Jabbar and chasing his record.

“And you know, obviously Kareem has had his differences, with some of my views and some of the things that I do. But listen, at the end of the day, to be able to be right in the same breath as a guy to wear the same [Lakers] uniform, a guy that was a staple of this franchise along with Magic and Big Game [James Worthy] over there for so many years, especially in the 80s, and a guy that does a lot off the floor as well,” LeBron said. “I think it’s just super duper dope for myself to be even in that conversation.”

Abdul-Jabbar has been more of a public persona in recent years, both around the game of basketball and discussing social justice issues through his writings. The NBA named its new social justice award after him. With that has come new relationships around the league.

One of those is not with LeBron. Will Abdul-Jabbar be in the building when LeBron does break the record?

We’ve got months for this relationship to evolve — if it does — before that big day.

 

Watch Zion Williamson score 13 in return to court for Pelicans

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Zion Williamson is back.

He certainly looked in better shape and flashed his insane explosiveness on his way to 13 points and four rebounds in 15 minutes Tuesday night against the Bulls, his first game after missing all of last season following foot surgery.

There was some rust, and the Pelicans are wisely bringing him along slowly and not breaking out the entire playbook for a preseason game, but in the moments we saw Zion looked like he was all the way back.

The questions now are can he sustain it, and how to the Pelicans mesh him with other scoring options in CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram.

And maybe we shouldn’t leave rookie Dyson Daniels off that list, he looked good in his first NBA preseason game.

The Pelicans are one of the most intriguing teams this season, a team that made the playoffs last season with a push after McCollum arrived, and now they add the elite interior scoring and athleticism of Zion to Ingram’s outside shot and slashing, not to mention and a solid core of role players. This team has top six potential if it can get stops. But in a deep West, nothing will be easy.