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LeBron scores 28 as Cavs edge Raptors 121-117 for 9th win

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CLEVELAND (AP) The Cavaliers are far more focused on how they’ll finish. They are not complaining about their start, though.

With Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson sitting courtside, LeBron James came up one rebound shy of a triple-double and Kyrie Irving scored 24 points to lead Cleveland to a 121-117 win over the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday night, making the Cavs 9-1 to match their best start after 10 games.

James had 28 points and 14 assists as the Cavs improved to 2-0 this season against the Raptors, the team they beat in last season’s Eastern Conference finals and the one they could meet there again in 2017.

The Cavs last went 9-1 in 1976-77.

“I don’t really pay attention to the records,” said James. “But I do pay attention to the teams we’re playing, and what they bring to the table.”

The Raptors bring a lot, and are one of the only teams in the East capable of going to toe-to-toe with the defending NBA champions. However, Toronto came up short against Cleveland just as it did in last year’s playoffs.

“I’m not encouraged by any loss,” said Raptors guard Kyle Lowry, who finished with 28 points and nine assists. “We want to win every single game. Every time we touch the floor we want to win games.”

Channing Frye‘s 3-pointer from the top of the key with 59 seconds left put the Cavs up by one. Cleveland then buckled down on defense, holding the Raptors scoreless until letting Lowry make a layup with 2.8 seconds left.

Kevin Love added 19 points and 13 rebounds for the Cavs, who have already had their share of tight games.

“We’re one of the teams at the top that’s going to get every team’s best shot,” Love said. “That’s a team we have history with. They’re well-coached. They know how to play and you saw them fight back tonight. That’s the kind of tension in playing those type of teams early that’s going to be good for us. We’ve had certain lapses in our first 10 games that we need to clean up. But we’re getting teams’ best shots home or away and we’ll be a better team for it.”

DeMar DeRozan added 26 for the Raptors, who complained about fouls called against Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas in the final two minutes and a possible goaltending violation against the Cavs that wasn’t called in the closing seconds. Toronto came in 5-0 in games where Lowry and DeRozan combined for more than 50 points.

Lowry was also whistled for a technical in the final two minutes.

“The ball bounced of my foot,” Lowry said. “I wasn’t trying to slam it. I dribbled the ball and it bounced of my foot. It’s not like it went far. Coach (Dwane Casey) caught the ball. Whatever, keep my money.”

The Cavs made 13 3-pointers and have dropped at least 10 in all 10 games, extending their league record to start a season.

TIP-INS:

Raptors: With so many shooters, and James’ passing ability, the Cavs can stress defenses to the max. “They have that extra point guard on the floor in LeBron,” Casey said. “He finds people the normal human being doesn’t see.”

Cavaliers: Coach Tyronn Lue is hopeful J.R. Smith can return for Wednesday’s game at Indiana. Smith needs three 3-pointers to pass Dirk Nowitzki for 15th place on the career list. … G/F Mike Dunleavy is off to a rough start in his first season with Cleveland. Acquired from Chicago over the summer, Dunleavy is shooting just 29 percent (8 of28) on 3-pointers. “We’re not worried about Mike,” Lue said. “He’s going to find his way.”

ON THE BENCH

The Raptors played without starting forward DeMarre Carroll, who was given the night off to rest his surgically repaired knee. He also sat out Saturday’s game against New York as he continues to recover from right knee surgery.

Smith missed his second straight game with a sprained right ankle, leaving Cleveland without one of its top outside threats and defenders.

FINALS TEST

On consecutive nights, the Raptors are taking on the league’s top two teams in Cleveland and Golden State, last season’s finals participants.

“It should be fun,” Casey said. “It should be exciting for our players to go against the champion and the runner-up from last year. It’s not going to make or break our season. It will help our young guys to get the experience against the two best teams and the two best players in the league this early in the season.”

Brooklyn is the only other team that will play the Cavs and Warriors on consecutive nights (Dec. 22-23).

UP NEXT

Raptors: Host Golden State on Wednesday.

Cavaliers: Play at Indiana on Wednesday.

Aggressive, attacking Boston drives right into heart of Miami defense, wins Game 3

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On Boston’s first possession of the game, Marcus Smart drove right to the rim and got an and-1 on a reverse layup.

Next possession, Jaylen Brown got a bucket cutting for a layup, with the assist from Smart. Next possession, Brown drove the lane and banked in a floater. The next Boston bucket was a Jayson Tatum driving layup.

The first nine Boston points came with them attacking the heart of the Miami defense (going at Duncan Robinson in particular), and that continued all game with the Celtics getting 60 points in the paint.

“Boston came out with great force. You have to give them credit for that,” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said after the game.

Throw in 31 quality minutes from Gordon Hayward in his return from a sprained ankle — providing more quality wing play and good decision making — and Boston raced out to a comfortable lead then hung on at the end for a 117-106 win in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Heat lead the series 2-1, with Game 4 not until Wednesday night (a little delay to allow the West to catch up).

After a sloppy Game 2 loss where the Celtics became passive in the face of Miami’s zone defense in the second half, followed by a postgame meltdown and meeting of the minds, the guys at the heart of the Celtics young core stepped up their game.

Particularly Brown, who had 26 points on 11-of-17 shooting and was getting to the rim all game. He also was playing smothering defense.

Smart — an All-Defensive Team player — had his best game of the series, blanketing Goran Dragic, who had been the Heat’s best scorer and shot creator through two games. Without Dragic breaking down the Celtics’ defense and getting points in the paint, Miami has to live by the three and the Celtics defenders did a better job staying home.

“Marcus’ ball pressure on Dragic was important,” Celtics’ coach Brad Stevens said postgame. “It’s something we need to continue to look at. Marcus did a great job on a guy who is playing better than I’ve ever seen him.”

Boston also got more minutes from Gordon Hayward than expected, minutes Stevens called a “stabilizing force” for the team.

“I’m extremely tired right now. My ankle is pretty sore,” Hayward said postgame, adding with the extra days off he should be good to go for Game 4.

Hayward’s presence also allowed Boston to play small ball without Daniel Theis or any true center on the floor, the Celtics switched everything defensively, and Miami didn’t take advantage. Look for Eric Spoelstra to turn to more Bam Adebayo against that small lineup next game.

“They got us on our heels. They were out there hooping and having fun. I guess that was the difference in the game,” Bam Adebayo said postgame.

Miami didn’t shoot the ball well Saturday night, hitting just 27.3% from three. Jae Crowder, who had been hot, was 2-of-8 from deep, while Tyler Herro was 4-of-12. Adebayo had 27 points and 16 boards to lead the Heat.

Boston had four players with more than 20 points: Brown (26), Tatum (25), Kemba Walker (21), and Smart (20).

Boston will need another game like that — and they will need to close better, Miami made it interesting late — to even the series on Wednesday.

Miami said postgame they saw what happened in this game as a challenge to them. Game 4 is going to be intense.

Ja Morant points out one person who didn’t vote him Rookie of the Year

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Ja Morant was not the unanimous Rookie of the Year — 99 out of 100 media members voted for him, one voted for Zion Williamson.

When the media votes became public Saturday, Morant got to see who the one voter who voted for someone else was: Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Crowley stood up for his vote, and everything was good between them (at least on social media).

While the votes come from media members, the NBA goes out of its way to put together voters who see things differently, something ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne talked about is an excellent thread on Twitter, although she was speaking about the case for LeBron James over Giannis Antetokounmpo for MVP.

To be clear, I was one of the Morant voters, and I will readily admit that Zion is the better player (at least right now). I consider the impact on winning heavily when voting, which led me to Morant because he played 59 games before the bubble and had his team in a playoff position, while Zion played only 19 and did not (only games before the NBA restart in Orlando were to be considered, per NBA rules). I also expect and respect the fact that not everyone will see it that way, or even define what matters most in winning the award the same way. Diversity of thought and views is a good thing, it leads to better outcomes. Crowley should vote what he sees and believes, and that should be respected.

Unanimous or not, Morant will go down as the 2019-20 Rookie of the Year. The voting will be a footnote at most.

Boston’s Gordon Hayward warming up, available to play in Game 3

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The Celtics are getting their X-factor back — Gordon Hayward is available for the must-win Game 3 for Boston.

This had been expected, but he was out warming up pregame as reports he would be available started to bounce around the web.

Even 20 minutes of Hayward would be a big boost for the Celtics. Hayward suffered a grade III ankle sprain in the first game of the playoffs against Philadelphia. He’s been out ever since, even leaving the bubble for a while to get treatment.

Hayward’s return gives the Celtics another versatile player who can create his own shot and knock down the open looks others create for him. Hayward can run pick-and-rolls with the second unit while Tatum and Walker get rest. He’s the Celtics’ fourth-best scoring option right now, but he’s more dangerous than any other team’s fourth scorer.

Miami leads the series 0-2. If Boston doesn’t find a way to break down Miami’s zone defense and defend the rim better themselves this series is going to be short. Maybe Hayward can help with that on Saturday night.

Ty Lawson dropped by team, reportedly banned from Chinese league after social media posts

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Ty Lawson’s off the court challenges were among the reasons he was playing in China and not the NBA this season. He signed for good money in China instead.

That era of his career after some social media posts, apparently of him at a strip club in China, has him dropped by his team and rumored to be banned from the league.

Lawson’s team, the Fujian Sturgeons, apparently gave this statement to Chinese news agency Xinhua:

“His inappropriate words are inconsistent with the social responsibilities and values abided by our club and have brought serious adverse social impacts to the club and the league. We will not sign him for the new season.”

Emiliano Carchia, the CEO of Sportando, reports that Lawson is out of the Chinese Basketball Association for good.

Lawson’s quickness and ability to create space and score could help some NBA teams, but incidents like this make it less likely an NBA team would roll the dice on the 32-year-old point guard. Lawson spent eight seasons in the NBA then the last two in China.