With the same record they had at this point last season, the Cleveland Cavaliers don’t plan on folding down the stretch again, especially if their most recent game is any indication.
Coming off a win over the defending champions, the Cavaliers play their final game before the All-Star break when they face the Boston Celtics.
For the second consecutive season, Cleveland is 30-21 after 51 games, but— unlike the 2004-05 season—the Cavaliers have no intention of slipping out of the playoff picture.
Following the All-Star game last season, Cleveland lost six of its first seven en route to going 12-19 in the second half and missing the playoffs by a game.
“We know the feeling of having 30 wins at the All-Star break and not making the playoffs,” forward Drew Gooden said. “We don’t want that to happen again.”
The Cavaliers made that clear Monday, snapping the San Antonio Spurs’ nine-game winning streak with a 101-87 victory.
LeBron James had 44 points in the win, and one of the reasons cited for Cleveland’s downfall in the second half last season was the lack of a scoring threat to complement him.
Larry Hughes was expected to fill that void, but the Cavs learned Wednesday they are likely to be without him for the rest of the regular season. The team’s second-leading scorer with 16.2 points per game, Hughes underwent surgery Tuesday for the second time in six weeks on his broken right middle finger.
Hughes, who hasn’t played since Dec. 31, is expected to miss an additional eight to 10 weeks.
“Right now, we’re good enough to be in the playoffs,” James said. “To make a run deep in the playoffs without Larry … I don’t think so.”
Cleveland was 18-10 with Hughes in the lineup, and has gone 12-11 since he’s been sidelined.
Still, the Cavs beat a San Antonio team which is tied for the best record in the Western Conference without Hughes. That came two days after Cleveland’s 99-91 home loss to the slumping Golden State Warriors.
Wednesday’s matchup with Boston gives the Cavs another chance to show they can take care of inferior teams.
“We have to grow up,” James said. “We can’t keep beating Phoenix, Detroit and San Antonio and then lose to sub-par teams.”
The Cavs have won four of the last five meetings with the Celtics, including a 115-93 win on Nov. 22, but have lost 12 of 13 in Boston.
The Celtics have followed a six-game losing streak by winning two straight, including a 102-94 home victory over Orlando on Sunday.
“Everybody’s understanding their role,” said Pierce, averaging 33.5 points in the last four games. “It’s a lot easier for me. Guys know what we’re doing every time down. We run one, two, maybe three different plays.”
Rookie Ryan Gomes had 14 points and nine rebounds in his second start for Boston, which shot 10-for-14 from 3-point range.
The Celtics have made 10 3-pointers in each of the last two games after reaching that mark only four times in their first 49 games.