76ers-Cavaliers Preview

The Associated Press

The Philadelphia 76ers stumbled to end a rough stretch of their schedule.

The first two stops on their upcoming trip could help them get back on their feet.

Philadelphia looks to avoid a third straight defeat Saturday night when it faces a Cleveland Cavaliers team that will be without rookie point guard Kyrie Irving for a third consecutive game and center Anderson Varejao for potentially much longer.

The Atlantic Division-leading 76ers (18-9) are coming off a 4-3 stretch that included matchups with four of the Eastern Conference's top six teams, two West division leaders and the Los Angeles Lakers. That challenging portion of the schedule ended Friday with a 78-77 loss to the Pacific Division-leading Los Angeles Clippers.

Andre Iguodala, named to his first All-Star team Thursday, couldn't stop Clippers All-Star guard Chris Paul, who hit a game-winning 17-foot jumper with 3.2 seconds left.

The 76ers, who fell 100-90 to San Antonio on Wednesday, have dropped two in a row for the first time in 2011-12.

"It's disappointing to lose two straight at home,'' Elton Brand said Friday after posting his second consecutive double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds. "We've got to regroup, go on the road and keep growing.''

Philadelphia's last three-game skid was from April 2-6.

The 76ers, who play seven of eight on the road, will try to get back on track as they open a three-game trip that also makes stops at league-worst Charlotte and Orlando before returning home.

The last time the 76ers visited Cleveland (10-15), they won their season-best fourth in a row, 95-91 on Feb. 27, to move above .500 for the first time all season.

It was Philadelphia's second straight victory in this series after losing 14 of 17 to Cleveland. Much of the Cavaliers' success during that stretch can be attributed to LeBron James, but Irving is establishing himself as the new cornerstone of the franchise since James' departure to Miami in the summer of 2010.

Irving has made an immediate impact as the top overall pick, totaling 18.0 points and 5.1 assists per game. However, the former Duke standout has been out the last two games with a concussion, and he won't play Saturday when the Cavs continue their nine-game homestand.

Neither will Varejao, who left in the third quarter of Friday's 113-112 overtime loss to Milwaukee with a right wrist injury. A follow-up MRI Saturday revealed a non-displaced fracture that will keep Varejao and his 10.8 points and 11.5 rebounds per game out indefinitely.

His absence means the Cavaliers will need even more from Antawn Jamison, who had a season-high 34 points with 11 boards on Friday. Jamison, though, missed a pair of free throws with 3.7 seconds left in regulation with the game tied.

"That's tough,'' coach Byron Scott said of Jamison, who is averaging 28.7 points and 9.3 rebounds in the last three contests. "But if 'Twan doesn't play the way he played, we don't even have a chance.''

Jamison totaled 26 points and 10 boards as these teams split two games in Cleveland last season.

Jrue Holiday had team highs with 17.3 points per game and 8.5 assists as Philadelphia went 3-1 in this matchup in 2010-11.

Ramon Sessions led the Cavaliers with 20 points and 10 assists in the 76ers' last game at Quicken Loans Arena. He has 36 points and 29 assists starting the last two games in place of Irving.

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