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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.”

 

Lakers’ rookie Ivica Zubac out for rest of season with high ankle sprain

Associated Press
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There is a list longer than the one Santa Claus uses of things Lakers fans can be frustrated with Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak for in recent years. There is no sadness in Lakers’ nation that Jim Buss is out of power and Magic Johnson is in (even if there are questions about how Magic will do in the job).

One thing you can’t knock them for: finding good players deep in the draft. They got Larry Nance Jr. at 27 and he is a quality rotation player with an all around game.

Another find was Ivica Zubac, who they grabbed high in the second round last June. The second most popular young player out of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Jusuf Nurkic wins that award) has turned into a solid rotation player with some promise, averaging 7.5 points and 4.3 rebounds a game in 16 minutes this season. He provides a strong post presence, has a nice hook shot, and most importantly showed improvement over the course of the season… until now.

Zubac is done for the season with a sprained ankle, the team announced Friday. He suffered the injury in the first quarter against Minnesota Thursday. From the official press release.

Results of the X- rays were negative and the MRI confirmed a high ankle sprain in his right ankle. He will be out for the remainder of the season and will be re-evaluated in two weeks.

Lakers fans likely will be able to catch Zubac in Summer League in Las Vegas, he should be healthy by then.

Dallas’ Devin Harris fined $25,000 for “aggressively pursuing a game official”

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The Mavericks’ Devin Harris did not like referee Ben Taylor’s calls. To put it kindly. Taylor hit Harris with a foul after a collision with Pelicans’ guard Jordan Crawford — and Harris had a point, Crawford got his elbow up.

However, Harris argued so vehemently he got a couple quick technicals, and three teammates had to hold him back from going after Taylor.

That reaction earned Harris a $25,000 fine from the NBA for “aggressively pursuing a game official and failing to leave the court in a timely manner following his ejection.” The league isn’t wrong about that, either.

Steve Nash on rest: “I was always tired in the playoffs, I could have needed the rest”

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Much to the chagrin of the NBA league office, there is as much talk about star players resting in the NBA as there is the looming playoffs or anything else around the league (save the MVP race). Fans are frustrated (as are broadcasters), old school players are ripping the younger generation, coaches and GMs are pointing to the injury/quality of play stats, and players are saying it’s part of the game now.

Former NBA MVP Steve Nash was on Sirius XM NBA Radio Friday morning, and honestly said he could have used the rest during his playing days.

Steve Nash’s career arc — where his body broke down quickly after seasons of heavy loads — is what the pro-rest proponents point to. The idea is fewer minutes and more rest can lead to longer, more productive careers.

Which is a valid point, but doesn’t alleviate the problem of fans feeling screwed over when they sit down to watch a big game on television — or pay a lot of money to see their favorite players in an arena — when those players are healthy but resting.

The one thing Nash is dead on about is that the issue is a tricky one. The NBA owners will be discussing the topic at their upcoming Board of Governor’s meeting, but what really has to happen is Adam Silver, representatives of the players’ union, teams, coaches, all need to sit down in a room and have a discussion. A compromise needs to be reached because the issue has become an embarrassment to the league.

How hot is Jusuf Nurkic fever in Portland? He’s got his own song (VIDEO)

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Jusuf Nurkic has changed Portland’s season.

Before trading for him from Denver at the deadline, Portland was out of the playoffs, not playing any defense, and their offense had been stale and predictable. Nurkic came in pumped to get a chance (he was understandably behind Nikola Jokic in Denver), he brought a presence in the paint on both ends that the Trail Blazers lacked, and the result is Portland has vaulted back into the postseason — right past Nurkic’s old team in Denver. Nurkic has averaged 15.3 points and 10.5 rebounds a game, and his play inside has opened the game up for Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.

How hot is Nurkic fever in Portland, not to mention his native Bosnia and Herzegovina?

So much so the band Dubioza kolektiv released a song, “Nurk Fever.”

Nurkic is now and forever the Bosnian Beast.