LOS ANGELES: LeBron James scored 21 points as the Cleveland Cavaliers routed the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila) to ensure new coach Tyronn Lue’s ticket to the All-Star Game.
Just three games into his new coaching job with the Cavs following the shock sacking of David Blatt, Lue and the Cleveland coaching staff will now be in charge of the Eastern Conference team next month.
Under NBA rules, the team with the best record after January 31 is selected to coach the All-Star teams—a status Cleveland clinched with a 115-93 victory.
Although Cleveland’s 32-12 record was compiled under Blatt, the former coach is ineligible to take feature at the All-Star Game after being fired.
Against Phoenix on Wednesday there was only ever going to be one winner after the Cavs reeled off 12 unanswered points at the start of the third quarter to open an unassailable lead.
That miserable sequence for Phoenix allowed Cleveland to build a 17-point advantage which stretched to a 28-point which the Suns never looked like catching.
James also had nine assists to go with his points haul while Kevin Love also weighed in with 21 and 11 rebounds.
The win came after James had been forced into launching an impassioned defense of his conduct leading to Blatt’s dismissal, taking aim at critics who blamed him for instigating the sacking.
“I think it does suck that people want to throw my name in dirt for no particular reason, because of speculation or whatever the case may be,” James told reporters before Wednesday’s game.
“I’ve never, in my time since I picked up a basketball, ever undermined a coach, ever disrespected a coach,” the four-time NBA Most Valuable Player added.
“And I’m not the owner of a team, I’m not the GM of a team. I’m the player of a team.”
Speculation about tensions between Blatt and James has bubbled since last season, when there were clear signs of friction between the two men during the Cavs run to the NBA finals.