LOS ANGELES (AFP) – The Cleveland Cavaliers continued their National Basketball Association resurgence on Wednesday (Jan 26) with a convincing 115-99 victory over the reigning champions Milwaukee Bucks that helped propel them into third place in the Eastern Conference.
As the Miami Heat maintained their hold on top spot in the East with a 110-96 victory over the New York Knicks, the Cavs slipped ahead of the Bucks and into fourth place with their eighth win in nine games.
They moved up another spot when the short-handed Brooklyn Nets fell to Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets 124-118.
Kevin Love scored 25 points, Cedi Osman added 23 and Cleveland drained 19 three-pointers as they continued their impressive run of form.
Darius Garland had 19 points and eight assists for the Cavaliers and Evan Mobley contributed 16.
“It was huge,” veteran Love said of the victory over the reigning champions. “We beat a very, very good team tonight.
“And if we stay true to our principles and true to who we are as a team, I think sky’s the limit for us,” Love added of a Cavaliers team that finished 22-50 last season.
Two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo returned from a one-game injury absence to score 26 points for Milwaukee. But the Greek star had seven of the Bucks’ 19 turnovers – which led to 31 Cleveland points.
The Cavaliers also scored 19 second-chance points off 12 offensive rebounds as Milwaukee saw their three-game winning streak end.
Bobby Portis scored 22 points and Khris Middleton chipped in 21 for the Bucks, who led by 12 in the first quarter, trailed by eight at half-time and never led in the second half.
In Miami, Duncan Robinson led the Heat with 25 points, Jimmy Butler scored 22 and Tyler Herro returned after missing three games over Covid-19 concerns to score 21 off the bench as the Heat led wire-to-wire against the Knicks.
They maintained a half-game lead atop the East over the Chicago Bulls, who beat the Toronto Raptors 111-105.
The Nets, third in the East going into the night, were still without injured Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving – whose decision not to be vaccinated for Covid means he cannot play home games.
James Harden, who had a 33-point triple-double in a loss to the Lakers on Tuesday, sat out with a sore hamstring, but the Nets still managed to challenge a Nuggets team led by reigning MVP Jokic’s 26 points and 10 rebounds.
The Nets led 65-54 after a first half that featured 14 lead changes. But Denver out-scored them 42-26 in the third quarter and never trailed in the fourth.