CLEVELAND (AP) — After Kevin Love dunked, the Cavaliers exchanged smiles, approving nods and a flurry of fist bumps and high-fives as Quicken Loans Arena rocked during a timeout.
This was the moment Cleveland desired for weeks — the Cavs at their creative, dominating best.
It was inevitable. It was awesome.
LeBron James scored 26 points, Love added 19 and the rejuvenated Cavs won their fourth straight, 106-92 over the Utah Jazz on Wednesday night.
Shaking off a flu bug that forced him to miss practice Tuesday and that also slowed Kyrie Irving, James added nine assists, seven rebounds and exacted some revenge on Utah’s Gordon Hayward.
The Cavs improved to 4-1 since the four-time MVP returned after missing eight games with a strained back and knee. Cleveland went just 1-7 without the superstar and now that he’s back, James wasn’t going to let a sore throat, stuffy nose or body aches keep him off the floor.
“It’s clicking,” James said. “We have a good groove right now.”
Irving added 18 points and Timofey Mozgov 16 for Cleveland, beginning to find its stride following a stretch of injuries and two major trades. J.R. Smith had 15 points, and all five Cavs starters scored at least that many for the second straight game — a franchise first. Until that happened on Monday, the Cavs hadn’t had that balance and production in the same game since March 16, 1993.
The Cavaliers are the first team to have all five starters score 15 points in back-to-back games since the Los Angeles Clippers did it in 2008.
Enes Kanter scored 24 with 17 rebounds and Hayward scored 14 for Utah, which has dropped five of six and four straight road games.
The Cavs avenged a 102-100 loss to the Jazz on Nov. 5, when Hayward dropped a buzzer-beating jumper after escaping James. There would be no such heroics this time for Hayward, who received an icy stare from James in the third quarter after a vicious dunk the Utah forward could do nothing to stop.
James said his glare at Hayward wasn’t intentional.
“It didn’t matter who it was, it could have been you,” he said playfully to a reporter. “You would have got that same look.”
Hayward wasn’t offended by James’ gaze.
“I think LeBron can pretty much bully anybody if he wants to,” said Hayward, who had written in his blog after his winning shot that he could hold his own against James. “The point of what I said is that he can’t bully me as much anymore. I’ve just gotten a little stronger. LeBron’s one of the stronger players in the league. You can take that for whatever you want. He’s never said anything to me about any of the comments I’ve made.”
Later in the period, the Cavs had perhaps their most memorable sequence this season. Hustling back on defense, Smith used both hands to blindly back tap a loose ball to Tristan Thompson, who handed it off to Irving on the fly. Cleveland’s point guard nearly fell before gaining his balance and feeding Love with an alley-oop pass for a dunk to give the Cavs a 74-48 lead.
“Best play of the night,” James said. “J.R. tapped it back to Kyrie and Kyrie was stumbling, rumbling and bumbling and threw it up to Kev. The best sequence of the night. I think the fans was craving a moment like that and we play for our fans.”
Utah coach Quin Snyder wasn’t overly upset with his team’s performance, which followed a 20-point loss at San Antonio on Sunday.
“We just played the world champions and the hottest team in the league,” Snyder said. “We have to be honest with ourselves. We didn’t play very well and we’re having a tough time scoring. I’m going to object to the idea that losing to San Antonio and Cleveland on the road is like the sky is falling.
“We’re not on the level of those teams and if we make mistakes and LeBron James is having a good night, it’s hard.”
Jazz: Rookie F/G Rodney Hood (sore left foot) won’t return until after the All-Star break. He was injured Sunday against San Antonio. … F Joe Ingles played for Cavaliers head coach David Blatt last season at Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Cavaliers: F Shawn Marion plans to retire following this season, his 16th in the NBA. Marion, a four-time All-Star during eight seasons with Phoenix, contemplated retirement last summer before signing as a free agent. Blatt had high praise for the 36-year-old. “He’s played the game at a high level for 16 years and he’s a terrific teammate, great guy and super performer,” Blatt said. “He’s going to have to be in the discussion for the Hall of Fame.” … The Cavs had 24 assists after getting just six in their loss to Utah in November.
Jazz: At Milwaukee on Thursday.
Cavaliers: Host Charlotte on Friday.
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