The Associated Press
CLEVELAND–The standings show the Eastern Conference’s top team plays in Canada.
The best player remains in Cleveland, Ohio–and LeBron James reminded Toronto he’s king.
Playing without five teammates and his coach, James scored 35 points and added 17 assists–his last setting up a late three-pointer by Kevin Love–as the undermanned Cavaliers rallied to beat the Raptors 132-129 last night.
The Cavs were down five rotational players and coach Tyronn Lue, who missed his second-straight game for health reasons.
But they still had James, who earlier in the day said, “I’ll be available so we got a chance.”
The three-time NBA champion delivered another virtuoso performance, adding seven rebounds without committing a turnover in nearly 40 minutes.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said associate coach Larry Drew, filling in for Lue.
“It’s just amazing what he does night in and night out,” he noted.
“How he sustains it is just mind-boggling.”
James made three free throws in the final 7.8 seconds but missed one with 3.9 seconds to go, giving Toronto a final shot.
DeMar DeRozan got a decent look on a three-pointer–contested by James–at the horn but missed.
DeRozan and Toronto coaches complained the all-star was fouled to no avail.
The win felt like a statement by the Cavs but James insisted there were no intended messages.
“It’s a good win for us because of how depleted we are on our roster and everything that’s been going on,” he remarked.
“It’s a good win for us against a very good opponent.
“But I don’t need to remind anybody about what my teams are capable of doing,” he added.
Love, playing his second game after missing 21 with a broken left hand, finished with 23 points and 12 rebounds.
George Hill added 22 points on 10-of-11 shooting for the Cavs, who were blown out by 34 points against Toronto back in January.
But that was before Cleveland shook up its roster with four trades designed to get back to the NBA Finals.
The Cavs currently sit third in the East but still as dangerous as anyone.
“They’re still a top team in our conference–and in this league,” DeRozan stressed. “You can’t overlook them or under-look them no matter what type of changes they made.”
Kyle Lowry scored 24 points while DeRozan had 21 for the Raptors, who scored 79 points in the first half and were in control in the third quarter before James brought Cleveland back.
The Raptors have lost to the Cavs in each of the past two post-seasons, getting swept last year in the conference final.
But this is a different Toronto team–deeper, more experienced, and maybe poised to dethrone Cleveland.
Not if James has anything to say about it.