Four newcomers bringing energy
Cavaliers pay back Thunder for blowout last month.
During the Cavaliers’ eight days off during the All-Star break, NBA analysts will con- tinue to debate whether their dramatic roster shake-up at Thursday’s trade deadline made them the favorites to win the Eastern Conference.
But after just two games with the four newcomers, it looks like the Cavs have found the right blend of young and old, a mix of veteran players who LeBron James respects and three 25-year-olds with whom he loves to play.
Facing a Thunder team Tuesday night that blew out the Cavs by 24 points in Cleveland on Jan. 20, the Cavs again showed energy, effort on defense and fire- power from their 2016 championship core and their incoming talent.
Coach Tyronn Lue played James, J.R. Smith, Larry Nance Jr., Jordan Clarkson and Jeff Green in the fourth quarter.
The Cavs (34-22) impressed for the second consecutive game, turning back the Thunder 120-112 in Oklahoma City.
James scored on a driv- ing layup with 49.6 seconds left to put the Cavs ahead by nine, but Paul George cut it to six with a 3-pointer. Nance, an Akron native, made two free throws with 34 seconds to go before Carmelo Antho- ny’s 3-pointer.
On the Thunder’s next trip, Smith grabbed a defensive rebound and threw a touchdown pass to Nance breaking toward the hoop. Nance dunked for a 119-112 lead with 11.6 seconds to go.
James had 37 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. The Cavs got 48 points out of new players Jordan Clarkson (14), Rodney Hood (14), George Hill (seven) and Nance (13) after they combined for 49 Sunday in Boston.
Watching the Cavs, there was no hint they were playing their last game before the break. They seemed focused and businesslike, even if they still couldn’t put the clamps on 7-foot center Steven Adams. On one trip downcourt in the third quarter, Adams shot six free throws thanks to Thunder rebounding, and made three. He finished with 22 points and 17 rebounds.
The Cavs concluded a three-game road trip 3-0 and won their fourth in a row.
Anyone trying to gauge James’ reaction to GM Koby Altman’s three stunning trades with four teams that sent out six players got even more of an affirmation than he gave Sunday with a 24-8-10 stat line in a rout at Boston.
James scored 17 in the third quarter. He shot 14 of 23 from the field and 3 of 7 on 3-pointers. In the third quarter, he was 7 of 10 and 2 of 4 on 3-pointers.
Smith continued his recent hot streak, totaling 18 points on 6-of-10 shooting, 6 of 9 on 3-pointers.