CLEVELAND (AP) — Iman Shumpert softly played a harmonica in the locker room as his teammates dressed following a surprisingly easy victory. In one corner, LeBron James slipped on a tight black T-shirt with RWTW on the front.
The initials stand for “Roll With The Winners.”
Right now, no team in the NBA is rolling like the Cavs.
James scored 23 points, Kevin Love bounced back from a bad game with 24 and Cleveland pushed its winning streak to 12 games Thursday night with a 105-94 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers, who also lost their composure.
The Cavs built a 32-point lead in the third quarter, allowing James and Love, who scored a season-low five in his previous game, to sit out the fourth and rest for Friday’s game at Indiana.
With their longest winning streak since a franchise-best 13-gamer in 2010, the Cavs moved into first place in the Central Division. Cleveland was seven games behind Chicago when the streak began with a victory over the Lakers on Jan. 15.
“Long-term,” said James, “that’s exactly how we want to play. A very, very good win for us.”
The Clippers were whistled for five technical fouls, including four in a contentious third quarter when they lost their California cool and forward Matt Barnes was ejected.
Blake Griffin scored 16 and Jamal Crawford 13 for Los Angeles, whose subs made it respectable in the fourth by outscoring Cleveland’s reserves 31-11.
“We just got our butt kicked,” said Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who considered pulling his starters at halftime. “It’s on all of us. We have to do a better job. Clearly, I didn’t do my job. We weren’t prepared from the beginning. I thought when they jumped on us early it was over.”
On Jan. 16, the Cavs beat the Clippers 126-121 for the second win in their streak. Cleveland was a different team back then, “in disarray” as Rivers put it before the game. But the Cavs are now connecting at both ends of the floor, first-year coach David Blatt has his team’s attention and Cleveland is looking every bit like an NBA title contender.
The Clippers figured to be a strong test for the Cavaliers, but were no match as Cleveland won its eighth straight over a Western Conference team.
“Certainly one of our better games,” said Blatt, who was under fire last month. “Considering the opponent and considering the fact that we wanted to continue our momentum, this is one of our better games.”
The Cavs led by 23 at halftime and the Clippers began to unravel emotionally early in the third. Barnes was called for a technical for shoving Love, and seconds later, Chris Paul got a technical for something he said to referee Lauren Holtkamp. DeAndre Jordan was given a technical for taunting, and Barnes was sent to the locker room for muttering a choice word to official Eric Lewis.
“We have to show better composure,” said Paul, who was critical of Holtkamp. “This might not be for her.”
James and his teammates produced highlight-package plays in the first half, when the Cavs moved the ball well on offense, clamped down on defense and built a 65-42 lead.
With a national TV audience watching, James drove down the lane for a two-handed slam and followed it up moments later with another strong layup. Cleveland’s passing was superb, and Kyrie Irving, who made only one field goal, had the best assist of the first 24 minutes when he fed James for an alley-oop dunk to give the Cavaliers a 21-point lead.
Love came out aggressively, scoring 10 points in the first 3 minutes and setting the tone. Blatt defended the forward, who has been criticized for not living up to expectations.
“I got tired of everybody talking about Kevin Love,” Blatt said. “There is nothing wrong with Kevin Love.”
Rivers was called for a technical in the first quarter, triggering the Clippers’ temper tantrums.
“I got one early just trying to get our guys going,” Rivers said. “I would have liked to have gotten two at that point. That would have been terrific.”
Clippers: Los Angeles has lost 12 of 13 in Cleveland and is just 3-17 all-time in Quicken Loans Arena. … G J.J. Reddick sat out with back spasms. … Los Angeles has four more games before the All-Star break and won’t finish its road trip until Feb. 9 in Dallas. In total, the Clippers will travel 7,399 miles. … Barnes is tied for the league lead with 11 technicals.
Cavaliers: James had eight assists at halftime. … Irving has been added to next week’s All-Star Weekend 3-point shooting contest in New York. Irving won the event in 2013 at Houston. … All five Cleveland starters scored in double figures.
Clippers: At Toronto on Friday.
Cavaliers: At Indiana on Friday.
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