Fresh off back-to-back losses to the owners of the NBA’s two worst records, the Los Angeles Clippers don’t figure to have much of a chance against the team with the league’s best.
The Cleveland Cavaliers look to extend their latest winning streak to a season-high eight games as they kick off a seven-game homestand Sunday against the struggling Clippers.
Cleveland (37-11) suddenly appears to be running away with the race for the Eastern Conference’s best record, as 22 wins in 26 games combined with uneven play from Atlanta, Orlando and Boston have given it a five-game cushion.
After playing four games decided by one point in a six-game stretch from Jan. 14-25, the Cavaliers have enjoyed a pair of easy victories in their two latest games. J.J. Hickson(notes) had a career-high 23 points in a 109-95 home win over Minnesota on Wednesday, then LeBron James(notes) and Shaquille O’Neal(notes) each scored 22 as Cleveland cruised to a 94-73 win at Indiana on Friday.
“On the road you want a quick start,” said James, who had nine of his 13 assists in the first quarter and missed a triple-double by one rebound. “We were great at knocking down our shots and great at getting stops. Defensively, we were in tune with about everything they were doing on offense. Offensively, we shared the ball.”
James has averaged just 16.0 points in the Cavaliers’ last two wins while averaging about 33 minutes - eight below his average from the previous nine games. His 22.9-point career average against the Clippers (20-26) is his lowest against any opponent, but Cleveland has won seven straight in the series.
He’s scored 32 in each of his last two games against Los Angeles, and every one of those points was necessary Jan. 16 at Staples Center. James scored 13 in the fourth quarter to rally the Cavaliers from a six-point deficit to win 102-101.
The Clippers won their next two games before heading on an eight-game road trip, and a 1-4 start has them in 12th place in the West, closer to 13th-place Sacramento than the teams above them.
Los Angeles’ latest two losses were particularly tough to take, starting Wednesday at New Jersey. The Clippers fell 103-87, giving the Nets their fourth win of the season and prompting a players-only meeting.
Apparently it didn’t do much good. With Chris Kaman(notes) sidelined by a sprained left ankle, Los Angeles shot 41.7 percent and missed 13 of its 27 free throws in a 111-97 loss to conference-worst Minnesota.
“We let two games get away that we should have won, had we played with the effort, had we played with the freedom and the mentality that we need to play with in order to be successful,” said Baron Davis(notes), who had 28 points - 23 in the third quarter. “It only gets tougher from this point.”
The Clippers are 0-5 without Kaman, who missed the game against Cleveland earlier this month with a back injury. He is listed as day to day.
Los Angeles won’t have to worry about Mo Williams(notes) (sprained shoulder) and possibly Delonte West(notes) (broken finger) in this meeting, but it likely needs more from Davis to have a chance. Davis scored nine points in the last matchup with the Cavaliers and averaged 11.7 points in his next six games before scoring 28 at Minnesota.