Cavaliers blast Nuggets to clinch Central title, Warriors bounce back from defeat

The Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors both earned big wins on Monday night.
LeBron James had 33 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists, and the Cavs used a new-look defense to clinch the Central Division title with a 124-91 victory Monday night against the Denver Nuggets.
Cleveland (50-20) endured frustrating moments of inconsistency throughout the season, but it still sealed the fifth division crown in team history and its ninth 50-win season.
“All is not bad,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. “We’re still growing, we’re still getting better on a night-to-night basis and we can celebrate this, but we gotta keep moving forward.”
The Cavs scrapped some of their defensive principles that haven’t been working the last few weeks and returned to the simplified format that carried them to the NBA Finals last season. They held the Nuggets to 39.5 percent shooting Monday and led by as many as 36 in the fourth quarter after Denver’s five starters combined to match James’ 33 points.
“It was embarrassing,” Nuggets coach Mike Malone said. “An embarrassing effort. I haven’t seen that from our team most of the year. I’m very disappointed with that.”
The Cavs built a 19-point lead in the first quarter when they scored 38 points, their most in an opening quarter all season. However, they give it all back in the second when Nuggets reserve guard Will Barton scored 16 of his team-high 27.
Cleveland went scoreless for more than six minutes while the Nuggets scored 17 consecutive points mainly off the Cavs’ reserves. When James and the starters returned, the Cavs reclaimed momentum.
The game was essentially over after three quarters, and James left to an ovation with six minutes remaining after securing his second triple-double of the season and the 41st of his career.
In this season of the unexpected, however, James again made a stir by unfollowing the Cavs from his Twitter account. James’ cryptic messages a few weeks ago on social media set the internet on fire, as did Monday’s revelation he no longer follows the Cavs.
Asked about the reasoning behind it, James stared down a reporter momentarily before responding simply, “Next question.”
The Cavs have fought to stay out of their own way most of the season. Locker room issues led to the firing of coach David Blatt at midseason, while the play of fellow stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love seemed to aggravate James at times this season.
Still, Cleveland remains atop the conference and holds a slim one-game lead on the Toronto Raptors for home-court advantage in the East playoffs. The Cavs’ blowout victory Monday, led by a dazzling performance from James, followed an embarrassing loss at Miami on Saturday when Cleveland trailed by 33 in the fourth quarter. That is the way it has gone most of the season.
Even Monday, the reserves let the Nuggets back in the game in the second quarter before the starters could put the game away in the second half.
“We definitely have to develop that killer instinct,” Lue said. “When we get up, we get cute — the fancy passes, we take a couple bad and questionable shots. We’ve got to continue to get better at that and continue to step on guys’ throats when we have them down.”
Cavs forward Channing Frye scored 14 points as a replacement for Love, who did not play because he was ill. J.R. Smith scored 15 points, and Matthew Dellavedova had 10 points and seven assists off the bench. Irving finished with eight points and three assists.
Jusuf Nurkic, Gary Harris and Nikola Jokic each scored 11 points for the Nuggets, although Harris was a minus-45 during his 34 minutes.
“We got our butts kicked,” Malone said. “I’m not going to use any excuses for it. For the most part, they did whatever they wanted and we helped them do it.”
Warriors 109, Timberwolves 104
Although it was a close one, the Golden State Warriors still have no concept of a losing streak this season.
Draymond Green scored 24 points as Golden State rallied from three points down in the final six minutes, beating the Minnesota Timberwolves 109-104 Monday and avoiding their first back-to-back losses of the season.
Hornets 91, Spurs 88
Jeremy Lin scored 29 points, including the go-ahead basket in the final minute, and the Charlotte Hornets rallied from a 23-point deficit to beat the San Antonio Spurs 91-88 on Monday night.
Lin’s fallaway jumper with 48.4 seconds remaining gave the Hornets the lead for good at 89-88, then he hit two free throws with 18.3 left to push the lead to three. The Hornets held on as Patty Mills and Danny Green each missed 3-pointers for the Spurs in the closing seconds.
Celtics 107, Magic 96
The scoring of Isaiah Thomas, Kelly Olynyk, Avery Bradley and Evan Turner drove the Boston Celtics to their second win in 24 hours, a 107-96 victory over the Orlando Magic on Monday night.
After ending a four-game losing streak with a win at Philadelphia on Sunday, the Celtics handed the Magic their 11th consecutive regular-season loss at TD Garden, their 12th in a row counting playoffs.
Pistons 92, Bucks 91
Andre Drummond’s tip-in during the final second gave the Detroit Pistons a 92-91 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday at The Palace.
Drummond’s putback of a missed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope jumper gave the Pistons (37-34) their third consecutive victory. Milwaukee’s Jerryd Bayless missed two free throws prior to Drummond’s game-winner.
Wizards 117, Bucks 102
Bradley Beal is getting healthy at the right time, John Wall is heating up and theWashington Wizards look dangerous heading into the final weeks of the regular season.
Beal scored 25 points, and Wall added 27 points and 14 assists, leading the Wizards to a 117-102 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Monday in a battle of surging Eastern Conference squads at Philips Arena.
Bulls 109, Kings 102
Derrick Rose scored 18 points and Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott each scored 16 as the Chicago Bulls beat the Sacramento Kings 109-102 on Monday night at the United Center.
The Bulls used a 10-0 run to take a 100-95 lead with 2:39 remaining en route to their third straight victory as Chicago fights for an Eastern Conference playoff berth.
Pacers 91, Sixers 75
Paul George led a balanced attack with 15 points, and the Indiana Pacerspulled away from the Philadelphia 76ers 91-75 on Monday night in Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
All five Indiana starters reached double figures, including 13 points from Monta Ellis, 12 from George Hill, Ian Mahinmi had 12 points and 10 rebounds and Myles Turner scored 10.
Grizzlies 103, Suns 97
Lance Stephenson and Jordan Farmar combined for 21 fourth-quarter points, and the Memphis Grizzlies avoided a third loss to the Phoenix Suns within a month by posting a 103-97 win Monday.
Stephenson finished with a team-high 16 points, and Farmar, who earlier Monday became the fifth Memphis player signed to a 10-day contract in the past 11 days, had 12 points in 23 minutes.

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