sports 3 days ago

Cavs continue to ride blend of old and new, finish road trip 3-0

Akron Beacon Journal — By Marla Ridenour Akron Beacon Journal

Feb. 13-- OKLAHOMA CITY-During the Cavaliers' eight days off during the All-Star break, NBA analysts will continue to debate whether their dramatic roster shakeup at Thursday's deadline made them the favorites to win the Eastern Conference.

But after just two games with the four newcomers, it looks like the Cavs have found the right blend of young and old, a mix of veteran players LeBron James respects and three 25-year-olds with whom he loves to play.

Facing an Oklahoma City Thunder team Tuesday night that blew out the Cavs by 24 points in Cleveland on Jan. 20, the Cavs again showed energy, effort on defense and firepower from their 2016 championship core and their incoming talent.

At crunch time in the fourth quarter, Coach Tyronn Lue played James, J.R. Smith, Larry Nance Jr., Jordan Clarkson and Jeff Green, subbing Rodney Hood for Clarkson with 49.6 seconds left.

The rebuilt Cavs (34-22) impressed for the second consecutive game, turning back the Thunder 120-112 at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

James scored on a driving layup with 49.6 seconds left to put the Cavs ahead by nine, but George cut it to six with a 3-pointer. Nance made two free throws with 34 seconds to go before Carmelo Anthony connected on a 3-pointer.

On the Thunder's next trip, Smith grabbed a defensive rebound and threw a touchdown pass to Nance breaking toward the hoop. Nance dunked for a 110-112 lead with 11.6 seconds to go.

James scored 37 points with eight rebounds and eight assists. The Cavs got 48 points out Clarkson (14), Hood (14), George Hill (seven) and Nance (13) after they combined for 49 Sunday in Boston.

The Thunder had four players score 20 or more points, led by Paul George with 25.

Watching the Cavs, there was no hint that they were playing their last game before the break. They seemed focused and businesslike, even if they still couldn't put the clamps on the Thunder's 7-foot center Steven Adams. On one trip downcourt in the third quarter, Adams shot six free throws thanks to Thunder rebounding, and made three. He finished with 22 points and 17 rebounds.

The Cavs concluded a three-game road trip with a 3-0 record and won their fourth in a row and seventh of their past 10.

The Thunder (32-26) have lost six of their past eight. Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony returned after missing the previous two games with ankle sprains. Westbrook showed up at the arena three hours early to work out on the court.

Anyone trying to gauge James' reaction to general manager Koby Altman's three stunning trades with four teams that sent out six players got even more of an affirmation than he gave Sunday with a 24-8-10 stat line in a rout at Boston.

James poured in 17 points in the third quarter. He shot 14 of 23 from the field and 3 of 7 from long range. In the third quarter, he made 7 of 10, 2 of 4 3-pointers.

Smith continued his recent hot streak, totaling 18 points on 6 of 10 shooting, 6 of 9 on 3s. Smith went 4 for 4 from beyond the arc in the first quarter, making him 13 for 13 on 3-pointers in the past 5 games (including Tuesday), according to ESPN Stats & Info.

Smith (1,883) passed Dirk Nowitzki (1,878) and moved into 11th on the league's all-time list of 3-pointers made.

In the last meeting, the Thunder's 148 points tied the franchise record for the most scored against the Cavs in a regulation game, matching the dubious mark set on Jan. 2, 1972 against the Philadelphia 76ers.

But Thunder coach Billy Donovan said that game would have no bearing on the rematch after the Cavs' roster makeover:

"Everybody talks about we scored 148 points, we also gave up 124," he said.

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