The Cleveland Cavaliers romped past Washington on Friday while their closest pursuers for the NBA Eastern Conference lead, Toronto, battled to a two-point victory over the Portland Trail Blazers.
LeBron James had 19 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists in the Cavaliers’ 108-83 victory over the Wizards in Cleveland.
Kyrie Irving added 21 points and eight assists for Cleveland, who snapped the Wizards’ four-game winning streak and avenged a loss in Washington on Sunday when James sat out to rest.
For the rematch, Cavs coach Tyronn Lue shuffled his lineup, starting James at power forward, resting Kevin Love and going with a smaller lineup that featured Iman Shumpert at small forward.
The mix worked. Cleveland led by 17 at halftime and by as many as 30 in the fourth quarter, giving Lue the luxury of resting James for the final period.
The emphatic win came after James was criticized in some quarters for travelling to Miami to train with former Heat team-mate Dwyane Wade.
A couple of cryptic tweets from James had Cavs-watchers wondering if there was trouble brewing in the locker room, but on the court all was well.
“To be able to come out and play like we did tonight – it’s a step in the right direction,” James said.
John Wall scored 17 points with eight rebounds and seven assists, sitting out the fourth quarter after twisting an ankle.
Markieff Morris had 13 points and five assists for the Wizards, but Washington committed 16 turnovers and remained outside of playoff position in 10th place in the East.
DEROZAN LEADS RAPTORS
In Toronto, the Raptors maintained their grip on second in the East, withstanding 50 points from Portland’s Damian Lillard to beat the Trail Blazers 117-115.
DeMar DeRozan scored 18 points, setting an NBA record by making 24 straight free throws before missing his final effort from the foul-line.
Overall the Raptors made a club record 43 free throws as they stretched their club-best home winning streak to 12 games.
Kyle Lowry added 28 points and six assists and Jonas Valanciunas chipped in 17 points and 10 rebounds for Toronto.
C.J. McCollum added 24 points for the Trail Blazers, but he and Lillard were the only Portland players to score in double figures.
It was close in Boston, as well, where the Celtics stormed from eight points down with less than four minutes to play to beat the struggling New York Knicks 105-104.
Avery Bradley drove for the winning points with 17.7 seconds remaining, lifting the Celtics to their 13th straight home win.
Isaiah Thomas scored 32 points and handed out eight assists – his second straight 30-point game for Boston.
SUNS ALSO RISE
Ukraine’s Alex Len was the hero for the Phoenix Suns in a 102-84 victory over the Magic in Orlando that snapped the Suns’ 17-game road losing streak.
Len scored a career-high 31 points and pulled down 15 rebounds.
The Suns went into the contest with the NBA’s worst field-goal percentage defense, allowing opponents to make 47.3 percent of their shots. But Orlando shot just 34.7 percent against them, suffering a blow to their dwindling hopes of making the playoffs.
“This is really disappointing,” said Magic coach Scott Skiles. “They were much more physical on us and we never responded. They pretty much dominated us. This is a game we had to have, and we didn’t respond.”
The Suns led 58-50 at halftime, and opened the third quarter with 16 straight points.
“Len played great,” said Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic. “He has really improved a lot, but I wasn’t aggressive enough against him defensively.”
The 22-year-old Len is a sign of hope for the Suns team that has struggled all season. Since the All-Star break he has averaged 18.5 points and 12 rebounds.
The seven-footer said he’s finding his feet this season
“This is just the beginning,” Len said. “My body wasn’t ready last year. Now all the hard work is starting to pay off.”