Nets-Cavaliers Preview

The best example of the Cleveland Cavaliers' recent issues surrounding LeBron James might have been last week's loss in Brooklyn.

That is until Tuesday night's miserable fourth quarter without him.

With James returning from a night off, the Cavaliers hope to rebound from yet another disappointing loss when the lowly Nets visit on Thursday night.

With what he's done off the court aside, James remains dominant on it. He averaged 29.0 points, 8.8 assists and 8.5 rebounds with two triple-doubles in four games last week, earning his record 52nd Eastern Conference player of the week honor.

James has 26,665 career points and needs only four more to pass Dominique Wilkins for 12th place on the NBA's all-time list.

Though questionable posts on social media and untimely trips to Miami have some doubting his decision making, what James brings to the Cavaliers (52-22) in basketball terms is undisputed.

That was clear when what seemed like a blowout win Tuesday turned into a 106-100 home loss to Houston, blowing a 20-point lead en route to their third defeat in six games. Coach Tyronn Lue rested James against the desperate Rockets, even with the miserable Nets next on the schedule and his team trying to hold off Toronto for the East lead.

The Cavs wasted a 13-point advantage in the final 12 minutes and shot 36 percent overall, their worst mark since Christmas. They surrendered 66 points in the second half, matching their second worst defensive half of the season, and were outrebounded 55-38 to fall to 5-15 when losing on the boards.

"We've just got to play better," said Tristan Thompson, who had 16 points and 10 rebounds in his franchise-record 362nd straight game. "We've got to take more responsibility."

The Cavaliers, who are 30-7 at Quicken Loans Arena, fell to 1-3 without James this season and 4-13 over the last two.

Kyrie Irving scored 31 points but it took him 23 field-goal attempts, and Kevin Love posted his fourth straight double-double but shot 5 of 14 for 13 points. J.R. Smith made only 1 of 6 shots for four points.

Those are Cleveland's top three scorers after James, and they struggled mightily in a 104-95 loss at Brooklyn (21-53) last Thursday. While James made 13 of 16 shots for 30 points, Irving, Love and Smith combined for 32 and shot 30.4 percent in the Nets' second win in the last eight games of this series.

The Nets, though, have lost five straight in Cleveland and seven in a row on the road.

Brook Lopez led Brooklyn with 22 points in the surprise win over the Cavs and should be rested for the rematch after being benched for the second half of Tuesday's embarrassing 139-105 loss at Orlando. It was the second-most points allowed in a non-overtime game this season by the Nets, who let the Magic shoot 61.5 percent one night after allowing Miami to hit 57.1 percent.

''I think guys are worried that there's not much time left, we're not fighting for anything,'' forward Thomas Robinson said after Brooklyn's ninth loss in 12 games. ''No knock on our team, but mentally it's tough to keep fighting in games and showing up every night the way things are going for us, and the end of the season being so close.''

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