LOS ANGELES: LeBron James scored 24 points and came up with a crucial late block as the Cleveland Cavaliers edged the Miami Heat 91-89 on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila) in a duel for third place in the NBA’s Eastern Conference.
“King” James prevented James Johnson from getting a shot off at the final buzzer as Cleveland held on for the win in their first game since Kevin Love was sidelined with a broken hand.
Love is expected to miss six to eight weeks — just more bad news in a tough January for the Cavs, who finished the month with a 6-8 record.
“I just wanted to keep the ball between me and the basket,” James said of his late-game stop. “That’s just the rules I’ve always been taught and I was happy to be able to get that last stop.
“It’s a good win for us.”
Jae Crowder drained a three-pointer from a James assist with 1:21 left to play to give Cleveland a three-point lead.
Miami’s Josh Richardson answered with a floater with a minute remaining before Cleveland’s Isaiah Thomas made two free-throws to build the margin to 90-87 with 18.8 seconds to play.
Kelly Olynyk’s layup trimmed the deficit to one point with 12.1 seconds remaining. With seven left Cleveland’s
Kyle Korver made the first of two free throws and Johnson, with James defending him, was unable to release the potential game-tying jump shot before time expired.
“We needed a win like this, where we win a game on our defense,” said James.
The Cavs entered the contest as the NBA’s worst-ranked defensive team but limited Miami to 3-of-28 from three-point range.
They harried the Heat into 20 turnovers as they held an opponent to less than 90 points for the first time since November.
“It’s a good step in the right direction,” James said.
James added 11 rebounds and five assists but coughed up seven of the Cavaliers’ 16 turnovers in the victory.
“I just keep making the same mistake over and over,” he said of the turnovers — most of which came on lackadaisical passes. He entered the game averaging 4.5 turnovers per game in January.
“I’ve got to change that,” James said. “I had six in the first half — ended up with seven. You have to be responsible with the ball.”
Goran Dragic scored 18 points to lead the Heat, who trailed Cleveland by half a game for third place in the Eastern Conference going into the contest.
Blowout in Boston
Elsewhere, the Orlando Magic rebounded from a heartbreaking loss to the Houston Rockets with a 126-105 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.
Marreese Speights scored a game-high 21 points and Evan Fournier added 20 points for the Magic, who made 18 of their 32 three-point attempts and set a season-high for three-point percentage.
The Brooklyn Nets snapped a four-game skid with a 116-108 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers.
Spencer Dinwiddie scored nine of his 27 points in the fourth quarter for the Nets and D’Angelo Russell, playing his fifth game back after knee surgery, added 22 points.
It was a blowout in Boston, where the Eastern Conference-leading Celtics overcame the absence of Kyrie Irving to down the New York Knicks 103-73.
The Celtics, up by five midway through the third quarter, more than doubled that lead in less than two minutes, seizing an 11 point lead and never letting the Knicks get within single digits again.
Terry Rozier, making his first career NBA start, produced his first career triple-double with 17 points, 10 assists and 11 rebounds for Boston, adding two steals and two blocked shots.
Six Celtics players scored in double-figures, led by 20 points off the bench from Marcus Morris.