LeBron James(notes) and the Cleveland Cavaliers will be heavily favored to complete a season sweep of the lowly New Jersey Nets. That doesn’t mean that the first three wins in the series this season have come easily, though.
James and the Cavaliers make their final visit to the Izod Center on Wednesday night when they try to extend the Nets’ franchise-record home skid to 10 games.
Cleveland (47-14) owns the best record in the league and New Jersey (6-53) the worst, with the Nets more focused on their move to the Prudential Center in Newark next season with the hopes that rapper and part-owner Jay-Z can lure his good friend James to the franchise in the summer.
The Cavaliers may not have the rap mogul at their disposal, but they clearly have a better team surrounding James than what the Nets have to offer. Cleveland has won four straight and 17 of 20 as it tries to hold off the Lakers for the NBA’s best record.
James sat out the fourth quarter after scoring 22 points in Monday’s 124-93 rout of New York as Cleveland shot 65.7 percent and led by as many as 49 points.
“We’re in a flow,” James said. “We’ve got guys who can make shots, we’ve got guys who want to play defense. It’s easy for us on the offensive end after that.”
New Jersey has lost seven straight to Cleveland, including three meetings this season that have been more competitive than the teams’ records would suggest. The Nets have been within single digits in the fourth quarter of all three contests, and have not lost by more than 10 points.
The Cavaliers turned in their third-worst shooting effort of the season in their last visit to the Izod Center, finishing at 39.5 percent in a 94-86 victory Jan. 2 behind James’ 28 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.
Nets second-year center Brook Lopez(notes) has played well against Cleveland, averaging 21.7 points and 12.0 rebounds in the three meetings. Lopez won’t have to go up against Shaquille O’Neal(notes) on Wednesday after Cleveland announced Monday that the center will be out for up to eight weeks after thumb surgery.
“This is another opportunity to show what I can do,” Hickson said. “We miss the Big Fella and can’t wait until he gets back.”
The Cavs are shooting 48.8 percent to lead the Eastern Conference while the Nets are tied with the Knicks for the worst field-goal percentage defense in the league at 48.1 percent. Defense, though, wasn’t the problem for New Jersey in an 89-85 home loss to Washington on Sunday.
“I had a bunch of wide open layups and jump shots, but in the fourth quarter we couldn’t buy a basket,” Harris said.