James-less Cavs fall to Pistons

The Detroit Pistons made the most of LeBron James’s absence, snapping a five-game skid with a 106-90 victory on Monday over the NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers. A day after their 109-108 triumph over the Golden State Warriors in a Christmas Day thriller, the short-handed Cavs had no answer for the Pistons.
Tobias Harris came off the bench to lead Detroit with 21 points. The hosts shot a modest 44.6 per cent overall, but they connected on 16 of 28 (57.1 per cent) from three-point range.
Six Pistons scored in double figures, with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope contributing 18 points, Marcus Morris 15 and Jon Leuer and Reggie Jackson 13 apiece.
With James watching from the sideline in street clothes, the Pistons seized a 50-44 half-time lead. They held the Cavaliers to 38 per cent shooting and forced 22 turnovers, leading to 29 Detroit points.
Kyrie Irving led the Cleveland with 18 points and eight assists. Kevin Love added 17 points and 14 rebounds for the Cavaliers who are 23-4 when James is in uniform and 0-3 without him this season.
“He’s probably the best player in the world,” Pistons forward Jon Leuer said. “When he’s not in there, it’s a different feel, for sure. They still have some talented guys with Kyrie (Irving) and Kevin (Love), their shooters and how they space the floor.
“It still makes it difficult, but LeBron kind of facilitates everything.”
As their five-game winning streak ended, the Cavs fell to 23-7, still the best in the Eastern Conference.
The second-placed Toronto Raptors improved to 22-8 with a 95-91 victory over the Trail Blazers in Portland. DeMar DeRozan scored 20 points with 10 rebounds and seven assists for the Raptors, who notched their fourth straight win.
James Harden and the Houston Rockets, left out of the NBA’s five-game Christmas party, showed the league what it missed in a 131-115 victory over the Phoenix Suns.
Harden notched his 24th double-double with 32 points and 12 assists in the Rockets’ second victory over the Suns in less than a week. The Rockets scored 39 points in the first quarter and led by as many as 34 in the second half, making 15 three-pointers along the way.
Harden’s performance was his ninth game of the season with at least 30 points and 10 assists.
In Orlando, the Magic also led wire-to-wire in a 112-102 triumph over the Memphis Grizzlies.
Forward Aaron Gordon scored 30 points and was a perfect four for four from three-point range. His 12 consecutive points in the third period helped turn back a Grizzlies rally.
Bulls hang on
In Chicago, the Bulls halted a three-game losing streak with a 90-85 victory over the Indiana Pacers.
Dwyane Wade scored 21 points and handed out five assists for the Bulls, who led by as many as 16 in the first half but saw the Pacers pull even early in the fourth quarter after Chicago managed just 12 points in the third period.
The teams traded big shots in the final minute. Indiana forward Paul George drained a three-pointer to cut the deficit to 86-85 with 45.3 seconds remaining.
Chicago’s Nikola Mirotic answered with a jump shot that made it 88-85 with 21.2 seconds to play. Wade stole a pass from Aaron Brooks and sprinted end to end for a dunk to finish the scoring with 1.2 seconds left.
It was close in Brooklyn, where Randy Foye hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to lift the Nets to a 120-118 victory over the Charlotte Hornets.
The Nets, who saw point guard Jeremy Lin exit with a hamstring strain in the third quarter, halted a five-game losing streak. — AFP