Created on Wednesday, 12 February 2014 Written by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
CLEVELAND (AP) — The Cleveland Cavaliers are headed toward the All-Star break on a high note.
Cleveland Cavaliers' Luol Deng, from Sudan, right, shoots over Sacramento Kings' DeMarcus Cousins during the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)
So is Anthony Bennett, the much-maligned No. 1 pick in the NBA draft.
As the Cavaliers avenged a 44-point loss to Sacramento with a 109-99 win over the Kings on Tuesday night, Bennett had 19 points and 10 rebounds — both career highs — in Cleveland's third straight win.
"You're starting to see a little bit of what we see in practice and the reason why we drafted him," Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said. "He's a talented young man and he's starting to come to life a little bit. He's even better than what you saw tonight."
Former general manager Chris Grant, who was fired last week, was roundly criticized for taking Bennett with the first pick in June, but the rookie from UNLV has made major strides after being a non-factor until mid-January.
"Anthony Bennett kicked our butt," Kings coach Michael Malone said. "I'm sure Chris Grant is smiling at home — and deservedly so — because that was his No. 1 pick."
Bennett was smiling, too. Asked when the last time he had fun playing basketball he said, "I don't remember, but today was one of those days."
Bennett hit two 3-pointers in a little over a minute in the second quarter and scored 11 points in the first half. His 3-pointer with 4:40 left in the game gave Cleveland a 100-85 advantage. Bennett was aggressive going to the basket — going to the line nine times.
Bennett had shoulder surgery before the draft and didn't play in the summer league. He adjusted slowly once the season began, and his minutes were limited when he played.
That has changed.
"It feels great," Bennett said. "All the hard work I've put in with the players and coaching staff is paying off."
Brown began giving him playing time last month after he showed progress in practice.
"It's not anything that all of a sudden happened overnight," Brown said. "He's a good basketball player. He can pass it. He can shoot it. He can run the floor. He can finish in traffic. He can rebound."
Luol Deng led the Cavaliers with 22 points, and Dion Waiters added 20.
The Cavaliers, beaten 124-80 in Sacramento on Jan. 12, took a double-figure lead early in the second quarter and were in control the remainder of the game. Cleveland has won three in a row for the second time this season.
Cleveland also won three straight from Dec. 7-13. The Cavaliers will go for a season-high, four-game winning streak in their final game before the All-Star break on Wednesday at Detroit. Cleveland has won all three games since Grant was fired.
DeMarcus Cousins scored 21 points to lead the Kings, who have lost 10 of 12 and seven straight on the road.
The Cavaliers built a 67-49 lead in the third quarter. The Kings cut their deficit to seven points early in the fourth, but Cleveland went on a 7-0 run, sparked by Kyrie Irving's 3-pointer, to go ahead 91-77.
Irving, who was 3 of 14 with seven points in the first meeting, had 13 points and six assists.
The Cavaliers broke a three-game losing streak against the Kings.
Cousins, taking advantage of a matchup with Cleveland center Tyler Zeller, had 11 points and six rebounds in the first quarter. The Cavaliers played without starting center Anderson Varejao, who missed the game with a sore back. Cousins didn't score again in the half.
The Cavaliers used a combination of Zeller, Tristan Thompson and Henry Sims in an attempt to neutralize Cousins, who was averaging 22.7 points going into the game. The 6-foot-11 center attempted only two more shots the rest of the game and was 11 of 16 from the foul line.
"The effort wasn't there," Cousins said. "It was just bad overall. I don't really have an answer, but whatever it is, it needs to be fixed. After the All-Star break, we'll start fresh, which is what we need right now."
Tristan Thompson had 16 points and 13 points for the Cavaliers.
Isaiah Thomas scored 16 points, and Rudy Gay added 14 for the Kings.
Sacramento has dropped the first three games of a four-game trip that ends Wednesday against New York. The Kings are 6-19 on the road.
C.J. Miles (sore right foot) also missed the game for Cleveland.
NOTES: Asked to describe Varejao's injury, Brown said, "With Andy, it's his back and really his whole body that is sore, so it will be good to get him some rest, but obviously, you hope that it's not a long-term thing." ... Varejao won't travel to Detroit ... Malone spent five seasons as an assistant under Brown with the Cavaliers from 2005-10. ... Thomas and Kings F Jason Thompson each picked up two fouls in the first quarter. Thompson committed his third foul 34 seconds into the third quarter and was scoreless for the game.