Irving, James lead Cavs to season series sweep of Magic

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The work is only beginning for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Kyrie Irving scored 26 points and LeBron James had 18, including a layup and pair of free throws down the stretch to help the Cavs hold off the Orlando Magic 109-103 on Friday night and clinch a playoff spot.

“There’s nothing much to say,” coach Tyronn Lue said after the defending Eastern Conference champions improved the best record in the East to 49-19 with their fifth victory in six games.

“We thought we were going to make the playoffs, so it wasn’t really a big deal to clinch,” Lue added. “We have bigger things ahead of us. We have a bigger deal in front of us.”

Channing Frye came off the bench to make four 3-pointers and score 14 against his old team as the Cavs beat the Magic for the 14th consecutive time. A rested James returned to the lineup after taking off Wednesday’s home victory over Dallas and finished 6-of-15 shooting with eight assists and seven rebounds.

“This one’s definitely for him. He showed up and showed why he’s a valuable part of our team,” James said of 6-foot-11 Frye. “He has the ability to shoot the ball.”

Data curated by PointAfter

Victor Oladipo had a career-high 45 points for Orlando, but only scored six in the fourth quarter. The last of his six 3-pointers trimmed Cleveland’s lead to 107-103 before James made two free throws to put it away.

“That team has been punking us. I wanted to set a tone that we aren’t here to get punked, we’re here to compete, and I think we did a good job of that,” said Oladipo, who was 16 of 22, including 6 of 7 on 3-pointers.

Cleveland’s defense tightened in the fourth quarter, and the third-year pro only got off three shots.

“I’m still upset about the fourth quarter. I can’t let them deny me the ball like that. I’ve got to demand the ball much more. That’s something I need to learn and get better at,” Oladipo said.

The Cavs led 63-54 at the half, using a 31-9 run to wipe out an 11-point deficit. Kevin Love delivered two 3-pointers and a dunk during an 11-0 burst that built Cleveland’s lead to double digits.

Oladipo scored 24 before halftime and 15 more in the third quarter, when the Magic opened with an 18-7 run to regain the lead and cling to an 86-83 edge going into the fourth.

But in the end, Oladipo simply didn’t get enough help – offensively or defensively – for Orlando to finish the job.

“When he’s making his jump shots he’s tough to guard. He’s athletic, he gets to the basket and can finish,” Lue said. “I thought our bench did a great job of finding him at the end and being physical with him.”

Evan Fournier had 18 points for the Magic and Jason Smith added 10.

Love finished with 14 points in 23 minutes. Frye, obtained from Orlando at the trade deadline, made four of six 3-pointers, and Tristan Thompson contributed 11 points and 15 rebounds, 10 of them in the fourth quarter.

“I felt like our guys really did come to play,” Oladipo said. “They just had too much firepower for us.”

TIP-INS

Cavaliers: The winning streak over the Magic is their longest against any team since taking 13 straight over the Philadelphia 76ers from 1991 to 1994. … Shot 50 percent, including 13 of 28 on 3-point attempts. They have made at least 10 3-pointers in eight of their last nine games. … Held Orlando to 17 points in the fourth quarter.

Magic: Lost the first three games of the season series by an average of 24.7 points. … Oladipo was 8 of 11 from the field and made all six on his free throws in the opening half. No one else on his team had more than six points in the first two quarters. … Oladipo is the ninth player in franchise history score 40, first since Aaron Affalo in December 2013. … G Elfred Payton sat out his fifth consecutive game with a right elbow sprain.

UP NEXT

Cavaliers at Miami on Saturday night.

Magic at Toronto on Sunday.

Michael Jordan on LeBron James comparisons: “We play in different eras”

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LeBron James — who on Saturday night likely will move past Kobe Bryant into third on the all-time NBA scoring list — has reached the point in his legendary career that he only can be compared to other legends.

Specifically, Michael Jordan.

Jordan, now the owner and face of the Charlotte Hornets, was in Paris to watch his team lose to the Milwaukee Bucks, and tried to downplay comparisons to LeBron.

“We play in different eras. He’s an unbelievable player. He’s one of the best players in the world, if not the best player in the world. I know its a natural tendency to compare eras to eras and it’s going to continue to happen. I’m a fan of his, I love watching him play. As you can see, our league is starting to expand on very talented players. I think he’s made his mark, he will continue to do so. But when you start the comparisons, I think it is what it is. It’s just a stand-up measurement. I take it with a grain of salt. He’s a heck of a basketball player without a doubt.” 

Does anyone think the ultra-competitive Jordan actually believes that? Of course not, we saw his Hall of Fame speech. But for fun, let’s take MJ’s words at face value.

Jordan is right. Both that it’s nearly impossible to compare NBA players across eras and that people will continue to do it anyway.

Jordan was a better one-on-one scorer playing in an era where the rules pushed the game toward isolation basketball and playing through contact. LeBron is a much better passer with better court vision in an era where driving-and-kicking to the corner, or making a skip-pass against an overloaded defense, is the smarter basketball play. Jordan broke open barriers as a player who is a brand off the court, but LeBron expanded that in a social-media era and added in a social conscience.

Both are legendary players, both are products of their generation, and both are Mount Rushmore players. Which player you think is the better player says more about you, your age, and your preferred style of play than it does LeBron or Jordan.

But please, commence the arguing in the comments.

 

Greek Freak makes himself at home in Paris, scores 30 points, Bucks beat Hornets

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PARIS — Giannis Antetokounmpo had 30 points and 12 rebounds and the NBA-leading Milwaukee Bucks beat the Charlotte Hornets 116-103 on Friday night in the first NBA regular-season game in France.

Milwaukee improved to 40-6 with its eighth straight victory. The Bucks have the best 46-game start in franchise history. They were 39-7 in 1970-71 when they went on to win the NBA championship.

Eric Bledsoe added 20 points and five assists for the Bucks.

Malik Monk led Charlotte with 31 points. The Hornets have lost eight in a row.

Milwaukee rallied to tie it at 78 going into the fourth quarter. Pat Connaughton put the Bucks in front with a dunk in the fourth. Then Antetokounmpo got going, drawing a foul as he slalomed through the defense.

Report: Needing depth at center, Dallas trades for Willie Cauley-Stein from Golden State

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Dallas took a big hit this week when center Dwight Powell went down with a torn Achilles. The Mavericks’ starting center was a critical pick-and-roll partner with Luka Doncic, a roll man and vertical threat that allowed Kristaps Porzingis to space the floor (along with other Dallas shooters), plus Powell was a solid team defender.

Willie Cauley-Stein is going to get a chance to fill that role.

Golden State is trading Cauley-Stein to Dallas for a second-round pick.

Dallas just made a trade for Justin Patton to waive him and clear out a roster spot for this trade.

Cauley-Stein is averaging an efficient 7.9 points and 6.2 rebounds a game for Golden State. More importantly for Dallas, he provides the athletic dive man, a threat on the roll they need to keep things open for Doncic.

Dallas could have waited out the market to try and land a better center, but this gives them a reliable fit for minimal cost (a late second-round pick, they kept Golden State’s own second rounder). Cauley-Stein will split time at the five with Kristaps Porzingis, Maxi Kleber, and Boban Marjanovic.

For those of you crunching the numbers at home:

For Golden State, in the short term, this move creates a couple of open roster spots. One of those likely will be used to re-sign Marquese Chriss, who was waived last week. The other roster spot likely will go to Ky Bowman.

Golden State adds a pick and a trade exception for sending out a player that was not part of their long-term plans anyway.

In trade about money/roster space, Mavericks send Isaiah Roby to Thunder for Justin Patton, cash

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We have a trade…

That shifts things around on the end of the bench in Dallas so they could create a roster spot forWillie Cauley-Stein (a trade that was announced later). A trade that is mostly about saving some and rolling the dice on a project in OKC.

Dallas is sending Isaiah Roby to OKC for Justin Patton, a story broken by Shams Charania of The Athletic.

What is really going on here?

For Dallas, this is about clearing out a roster spot, it plans to waive Patton. That roster spot is going to Willie Cauley-Stein in a trade with Golden State, that was just reported. The Mavericks lost center Dwight Powell to a torn Achilles this week and needed to bring in a player or two — via trade or free agency — to help bolster the existing front line of Kristaps Porzingis, Maxi Kleber, and Boban Marjanovic. Here is Brad Townsend of the Dallas Morning News.

The move also clears out a little cash for Dallas.

In Oklahoma City, they get a young player to develop but also save some money.

Roby has not played in an NBA game yet. The rookie out of Nebraska — taken 45th overall last June — is a development project, but one who passes the eye test for an NBA power forward. He did a lot of things well in college — scoring, rebounding, works hard off the ball — but can he do that at an NBA level? He’s played in nine G-League games this season, averaging 9.2 points and 7 rebounds a game.