July 24, 2016

Mostly cloudy

Cavs cruise to victory

CLEVELAND —The Cavaliers have been through a lot of heart-stopping finishes lately, but Wednesday’s game against the hapless Minnesota Tim-berwolves wasn’t one of them.

Cleveland cruised to a 109-95 win at Quicken Loans Arena, with superstar LeBron James spending the fourth quarter on the bench joking with injured point guard Mo Williams or danc-ing during timeouts.

The Cavaliers, who improved to an NBA-best 36-11, have now won six straight games. The first five in that string were by a grand total of 15 points, including three by one point.

“A win is a win, honestly,” said James, who had 12 points, six rebounds and 11 assists in just 31 minutes. “We’re OK with having ones where the big guys don’t have to play as much, but we’re OK finishing games off with heart-pounders for the coaching staff and fans. It’s good every now and then to be able to get one of these wins and be able to relax.”

The only scary moments in this one came when 7-foot-1, 325-pound Cleveland center Shaquille O’Neal pancaked a Minnesota player and nearly flattened a fan seated along the base-line.

The first incident occurred with 5:33 to play in the second quarter. After being called for an offensive foul, O’Neal lost his balance and made no attempt to break his fall, instead fal-ling full force onto 7-foot, 230-pound T-Wolves rookie Ryan Hollins.

Midway through the third period, O’Neal and Minnesota big man Kevin Love got tied up along the baseline. Just as a jump ball was called, O’Neal went sailing into the stands, where more than a few fans felt the impact.

The only other real excitement against a bad Minnesota (9-38) team, which lost to Cleveland for the ninth straight time, was provided by second-year Cavaliers power forward J.J. Hickson, who had a career-high 23 points and eight rebounds in just 25 minutes.

“We don’t expect that from him nightly,” coach Mike Brown said. “He’s capable, but we’re not look-ing for 23 and eight every night. If he’s active and comes up with some rebounds and loose balls and does a good job defen-sively, I’m happy.”

Hickson, who finished 8-of-10 from the field and 7-of-7 at the line, had 17 points in the first half. The 6-9, 242-pounder got most of his points after cutting to the hoop and taking passes from James and O’Neal (13 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists in 19 minutes).

“I told him when I got here he could be like Cedric Ceballos,” O’Neal said of his former Los Angeles Lakers teammate, who averaged 21 points a game in the mid-1990s simply by running the lane and moving without the ball. “Of course, he didn’t know who that was.”

Hickson had 10 points in the first quarter, then added seven more in the second as the Cavaliers went up 60-48 at intermission.

The North Carolina State product set his career high by making a pair of free throws that put Cleveland up 79-58 with 4:22 left in the third quarter. He didn’t score again, but joined James and O’Neal in sitting out the entire fourth period.

“I had a bad game in Mi-ami, so I took it upon myself to be more aggressive,” said Hickson, who had no points and one rebound in 13 minutes Monday against the Heat. “It all started with defense. I just kept being active and I kept getting open looks.”

Hickson was not selected for the Rookie Challenge, which pits first-year players against second-year guys over All-Star Weekend, but said he wasn’t extra moti-vated after being passed over in favor of Miami’s Michael Beasley, New Jersey’s Brook Lopez, Memphis’ Marc Gasol and Minnesota’s Love.

“That’s an individual accolade,” Hickson said. “I’m in it for my team. I’m playing to win a cham-pionship. I’m not playing to make the rookie-sophomore game.”

The Cavaliers also got a season-high 14 points from Jamario Moon, 13 points apiece from Zydrunas Il-gauskas and Daniel Gibson and 10 rebounds from Anderson Varejao.

Hickson and O’Neal combined to go 14-of-18 from the field as the Cavaliers outscored the T-Wolves by a whopping 60-34 in the paint.

Shooting guard Corey Brewer led Minnesota with 22 points, while Love came off the bench for 20 points and 10 boards. Center Al Jefferson had 14 points and 10 rebounds, but went just 6-of-18 from the field.

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rickn@ohio.net.

Rick Noland About Rick Noland

Rick Noland is the Cavs beat writer for The Gazette and the author of "Over Time," a compilation of stories he's written in more than 30 years as a journalist. He can be reached at 330-721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.