LeBron James’(notes) ability to carry a team with his offense obviously has a lot to do with Cleveland’s success, but the Cavaliers are also winning behind one of the league’s best defenses. The Milwaukee Bucks discovered just how strong that defense can be earlier this month.
James and the surging Cavaliers try for a sixth straight win over the Bucks on Friday night at Quicken Loans Arena.
James is second in the league with 28.9 points per game, and he had another big performance in Wednesday’s 108-101 victory at Philadelphia.
With Cleveland (19-7) trailing by four with 5:50 left, James scored 10 of the team’s final 18 to help the Cavs win their fourth in a row and open a 6 1/2-game lead over second-place Milwaukee (11-12) in the Central Division.
James finished with 36 points as Cleveland improved to 10-3 when he scores at least 30.
“LeBron James, being who he is, hit some big shots for us,” coach Mike Brown said.
James’ scoring was hardly needed the last time these teams played.
Cleveland ranks second in the NBA in field goal defense (43.5 percent) and fourth in defensive scoring (94.4 points), and came up with one of its best defensive efforts at Milwaukee on Dec. 6.
The Cavs blew open a close game with a 29-0 first-half run to coast to a 101-86 victory. Cleveland held the Bucks scoreless from 4:36 left in the first quarter until the 5:11 mark of the second. The 11:25 span without a point is the longest streak this season one team has kept another from scoring.
With the defense leading the way, James finished with 14 points in a season-low 32 minutes. He averaged 37.8 points in four wins over Milwaukee last season.
This will mark the second straight game the Bucks face one of the league’s premier scorers.
Milwaukee had a difficult time trying to slow down Kobe Bryant(notes) in Wednesday’s 107-106 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. Bryant, who finished with 39 points, hit a 15-footer as time expired and scored the game’s final seven points over the last 1:18 of overtime.
Although the Bucks lost for the ninth time in 11 games, they received an encouraging performance from Michael Redd(notes), who finished with a season-high 25 points in his second game after missing seven with left knee soreness.
“Day-by-day and game-by-game I’m trying to get healthy and strong,” said Redd, who has sat out 16 games this season. “Obviously I have a bounce in my step now.”
The 6-foot-9 Ilyasova finished with a career-high 24 points Wednesday and is averaging 17.8 on 10-of-21 shooting from 3-point range in his last four games. He had eight points against the Cavs earlier this month.