CHICAGO: LeBron James says the reigning NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers are “in a bad spot” after losing their third consecutive game, falling 99-93 Thursday (Friday in Manila) at Chicago.
The Bulls completed a 4-0 regular-season sweep of Cleveland, boosting their chances of reaching the playoffs and dropping the Cavaliers (47-27) behind Boston (48-27) at the top of the Eastern Conference.
“We’re in a bad spot right now,” James said. “Not disappointed with the effort. Just in a bad spot. Got to try to fig-ure it out… we’ve got some work to do and we don’t have a lot of time.”
The Bulls (36-39) moved within one game of Miami and Indiana for the last two playoff spots in the Eastern Con-ference with seven games remaining over the next two weeks.
“We need them all,” Chicago star Jimmy Butler said. “That’s what we talk about. We’ve got to have these.”
Nikola Mirotic, a Montenegrin-born Spaniard, scored 28 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for Chicago.
“I just want to finish strong at the end of the season and help us get into the playoffs,” Mirotic said.
Butler added 25 points for the Bulls, who used defensive effort to close the third quarter on a crucial 11-3 run.
“We got back in transition,” Butler said. “It always helps to make shots but we guarded. That’s how we’ve got to play. We’ve got to rely on our defense.”
James sparked Cleveland with 26 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists while Kyrie Irving added 20 for the Cavaliers, who were without forwards Kyle Korver and Richard Jefferson due to sore left knees.
James passed Shaquille O’Neal for seventh on the NBA’s all-time scoring list, ending the game with 28,599 career points, three more than “Shaq.”
Blazers down the Rockets
Damian Lillard scored 31 points to lead six double-figure scorers in Portland’s 117-107 home victory over Houston.
The Trail Blazers (37-38) won their fifth consecutive game and moved 1 1/2 games ahead of Denver in the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot.
“We did a great job of executing down the stretch,” Lillard said. “We trusted each other. We kept the ball moving. We showed poise. We had confidence and we did what we needed to get the win.”
James Harden, who led Houston with 30 points, sank a 3-pointer late in the first quarter to give the Rockets an NBA record 1,078th 3-pointer this season, breaking the old one-season mark set last season by Golden State.
Marcus Morris scored 28 points and grabbed 13 rebounds as Detroit snapped a five-game losing streak with a 90-89 home victory over the NBA-worst Brooklyn Nets (16-59).
“We barely got this one,” Morris said. “To finally just get one, hopefully it can lead to more.”
At 35-41, the Pistons are 2 1/2 games behind Miami and Indiana in the playoff hunt.
“Anything we can do to get a win at this point is good and make one more little push,” said Ish Smith, who had 21 points, six rebounds and five assists.
Rubio scores career-high 33
Spanish guard Ricky Rubio scored an NBA career-high 33 points and added 10 assists while Karl-Anthony Towns contributed 32 points as host Minnesota defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 119-104.
“I’m filled with a lot of confidence,” Rubio said. “I think the experience is paying off and the work that I put into it, too. Starting the season I wasn’t feeling that good and now I feel the best I’ve ever felt.”
Andrew Wiggins added 27 points for the Timberwolves while Senegalese center Gorgui Dieng had 11 points and a season-high 15 rebounds. Minnesota (30-44) is all-but out of playoff contention while the Lakers (21-54) took their 17th loss in 19 games.
“I wish we could fight for the playoff. That’s what I came here for,” Rubio said. “I hope we can build from here and finally take off next season.”
At Phoenix, Blake Griffin scored 31 points and Chris Paul added 29 points and 10 assists as the Los Angeles Clippers beat the host Suns 124-118.
The Clippers (46-31) are one game behind fourth-place Utah in the Western Conference. Phoenix fell to 22-54 with a 10th consecutive loss.