July 22, 2014

Medina
Sunny
65°F

Cavaliers keep on winning at home

By RICK NOLAND

Assistant Sports Editor

CLEVELAND — Mike Brown now faces the ultimate task — to convince his Eastern Conference players to play defense in the NBA All-Star Game.

The Cavaliers locked up All-Star coaching berths for Brown and his staff Friday night by defeating the lowly Los Angeles Clippers 112-95 at sold-out Quicken Loans Arena.

It improved Cleveland’s record to 36-9 overall and 22-0 at The Q, tying the 1988-89 team’s franchise record for most consecutive wins at home.

Because Boston’s Doc Rivers coached the East last year, the victory guarantees Brown will pilot the squad in the Feb. 15 All-Star Game in Phoenix, as only the Celtics can possibly have a higher winning percentage than the Cavaliers after Sunday’s games.

“How’d that happen?” quipped LeBron James, who is still upset he is the only Cleveland player in the game. “They had no choice but to give it to him. I’ll leave it at that, but you know what I mean.”

James led the Cavaliers with 25 points, seven rebounds, six assists and three steals, while Zydrunas Ilgauskas, playing his first game in January, had 20 points on 10-of-16 shooting and 11 rebounds. Mo Williams added 20 points, all in the last 2½ quarters, and Wally Szczerbiak finished with 15.

The Cavaliers ended up beating the injury-plagued Clippers (10-36), who have lost 18 of their last 20 games, with defense. They held Los Angeles to 41 points over the final two periods, which is sometimes put up in a quarter in the All-Star Game.

“I don’t know if Mike’s going to like all that high-powered offense,” James said. “He will enjoy the fourth quarter. That’s when we start to pick it up.

“I’ll always be a coachable player,” the 24-year-old added with a laugh. “But if he tells me to play defense in the first quarter, I will not be coached then.”

Brown, who will be joined in Phoenix by assistants Hank Egan, Melvin Hunt, Chris Jent, John Kuester and Michael Malone, as well as trainer Max Benton, thanked every player on the roster following the win over the Clippers.

“It’s the ultimate team award,” he said. “I definitely wouldn’t have been named coach of the East All-Stars without those guys in the locker room.

“With our record and where we sit, we should have been more well-represented, in my opinion,” he added. “I felt (Williams) got snubbed, but that’s how it goes.”

The Clippers will have no one at the All-Star Game, and that’s understandable for a team that starts Fred Jones, Eric Gordon, DeAndre Jordan, Brian Skinner and Al Thornton. Los Angeles is without starting center Chris Kaman (strained arch) and power forward Zach Randolph (sore knee), so even when it plays well, as it did at times against the Cavaliers, it still has virtually no chance of beating a good team.

Down 18-2 right off the bat, the Clippers actually led by seven in the second period – they went on a 28-6 run at one point – and were still within six with nine minutes to go in the game, but they simply didn’t have enough weapons to hang with the Cavaliers.

“We were a little unfortunate to catch them on a night when they got Ilgauskas back,” Los Angeles coach Mike Dunleavy said. “He certainly paid the rent tonight.”

Ilgauskas, who had missed the last 13 games with a chip fracture in his left ankle, scored six points as the Cavaliers raced to an 11-0 lead and looked like he had never missed a beat.

“The big fellow is a skilled individual,” Brown said. “He just understands the game and knows how to play, and he obviously can shoot the basketball.”

With Ilgauskas helping them spread the floor, the Cavaliers had between 26 and 29 points in every quarter and made 14-of-26 shots from 3-point territory. Five different players made at least two trifectas, with Sasha Pavlovic hitting three en route to 15 points and the red-hot Williams connecting on five out of six.

“It’s always a luxury to have him out on the court,” James said of Ilgauskas. “He’s a great player and we’re excited to have him back.”

The Clippers, who stayed in the game by making 8-of-15 3-pointers in the first half, hit just 3-of-13 after intermission. Rookie Eric Gordon finished with 27 points, but had just six in the second half, while sharp-shooting big man Steve Novak had 19 off the bench.

“It was a good win,” said Brown, who learned before the game that backup swingman Tarence Kinsey will be out three to five weeks after spraining his ankle Thursday in Orlando. “The thing I’m most proud of is defensively we really stepped it up a notch.”

Brown, who will be the second Cavaliers coach to lead the East (Lenny Wilkens, 1989), knows it will be difficult to get a similar effort in the All-Star Game.

“I’m not going to try to get them to do anything,” he said. “I’m going to have fun.”

Noland may be reached at rickn@ohio.net or 330-721-4061.