Cleveland pulled out a 94-93 win over the Miami Heat on Wednesday despite playing without Boozer, who averaged 23 points and 16 rebounds in the previous five games. The second-year forward left the team to attend his grandmother’s funeral in Washington D.C.
It was Cleveland’s first win in seven games this season without Boozer, who missed six games with an ankle sprain. He is the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week after averaging 20.7 points, 15.3 rebounds and 4.0 assists in three games.
His solid play has helped the Cavaliers already post 17 wins through 45 games, matching last season’s victory total when they were a league-worst 17-65.
With 37 games left, Cleveland, which hasn’t made the postseason since 1998, is just two games out of the eighth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
“That feels great,” Cavs rookie LeBron James said. “That’s why they drafted me, to get this thing turned around. It’s all coming together.”
James has lived up to his predraft hype, averaging 20.5 points, six assists and 5.8 rebounds to lead Cleveland’s turnaround. James’ stellar rookie campaign could earn him an All-Star game selection when the reserves are named next week.
“He should (make it),” Cavs coach Paul Silas said. “He’s putting up the numbers and we’re winning. In my mind, he certainly deserves it.”
James had 27 points—11 in the fourth quarter—and Dajuan Wagner scored a huge basket with 7.9 seconds left Wednesday as the Cavs matched a season high with their third straight win. They have not won four in a row since Feb. 6-16, 2002.
Cleveland now looks to end a four-game losing streak against the Bucks.
Milwaukee has been playing some of its best basketball over the last month, going 13-4 since Jan. 1.
The Bucks had a three-game win streak snapped on Wednesday with a 101-100 loss to the New Orleans Hornets.
Michael Redd tied a career high with 40 points and hit a runner that gave the Bucks a 100-99 lead with 22 seconds left, but New Orleans won on Jamal Mashburn’s turnaround jumper with 12 seconds to go.
“I had a good rhythm in the beginning,” said Redd, who scored only four points in the fourth quarter. “This is a sour one, though. You’d rather get the win.”
The loss dropped Milwaukee into fourth in the Central Division, eight games behind first-place Indiana.
STANDINGS (through Jan. 28): Cavaliers - 6th place, 16 GB, Central Division. Bucks - 4th place, 8 GB, Central Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Cavaliers - James, 20.5 ppg and 6.0 apg; Boozer, 11.0 rpg. Bucks - Redd, 22.1 ppg; Smith, 8.5 rpg; Ford, 6.4 apg.
2002-03 SEASON SERIES: Bucks, 4-0.
LAST MEETING: March, 4; Bucks, 95-93. At Milwaukee, Redd scored 22 points and Toni Kukoc added 17 to lead the Bucks to a sweep of the season series. Ilgauskas had 18 points for Cleveland, which lost its 18th straight road game.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Cavaliers - 4-19 on the road; Bucks - 18-5 at home.