Created on Thursday, 20 February 2014 Written by THE BELLEFONTAINE EXAMINER STAFF
CLEVELAND (AP) — A season that looked like a lost cause two weeks ago has suddenly turned around for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Cleveland Cavaliers' Kyrie Irving (2) drives past Orlando Magic's Arron Afflalo (4) during the third quarter of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Kyrie Irving scored 22 points and the Cavaliers won their sixth straight game, 101-93 over the Orlando Magic on Wednesday night.
The winning streak has put Cleveland within three games of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Considering where they were on Feb. 5 when they hit rock bottom with an embarrassing loss to an injury-decimated Los Angeles Lakers team that finished the game with five players, the Cavaliers have made a big leap forward in a short period of time.
Irving, chosen MVP of the NBA All-Star game Sunday, paced a balanced offense that extended the Cavaliers' longest winning streak since they won eight in a row in March 2010. That was LeBron James' final season in Cleveland.
"It's been nothing specific," Irving said of the resurgence. "We're coming together as a team. We're enjoying the game out there, a lot more smiles and a higher level of competitiveness. We're having fun, but we're also competing."
General manager Chris Grant was fired the day after the loss to the Lakers. It appears the Cavaliers learned some lessons from the low point of the season. Cleveland won its last four games before the All-Star break and routed Philadelphia on Tuesday.
"We know what it feels like to be on both sides, whether down or up," Irving said.
Cleveland played without guard Dion Waiters (hyperextended left knee) and center Anderson Varejao (sore back). Luol Deng scored 17 points, while Tyler Zeller and Tristan Thompson each added 16 for the Cavaliers, whose 21-point lead was cut to two late in the game.
Arron Afflalo led Orlando with 23 points. The Magic have lost 14 consecutive road games and are an NBA-worst 3-25 away from home.
Orlando coach Jacque Vaughn is at a loss to explain his team's road woes.
"I have no secret formula," he said. "They can see how the second half transpired — that's the secret. Whether it's back-to-back games or you're playing four in five nights, playing like that with mental toughness is the only way to get it done."
The Cavaliers built an 18-point lead in the first quarter and were ahead by double figures until Orlando rallied in the third. The Magic outscored the Cavs 32-17 in the period and cut it to 72-70 in the early seconds of the fourth.
Cleveland went up 89-81 but Orlando scored six straight points to cut the margin to two again. Zeller's three-point play, two free throws by Irving and Deng's 3-pointer pushed the lead to 97-89 with 35 seconds remaining.
Orlando forward Glen Davis, the subject of trade talk leading up to Thursday's deadline, left early in the first quarter with a sore right Achilles and didn't return.
The Cavaliers led 26-11 after one. Orlando missed its first nine shots and fell behind 15-2. The Magic were 3 of 21 from the field in the quarter.
Irving, who had 31 points and 14 assists in the All-Star game, ended the first half with a 3-pointer from a couple of steps behind the line that gave Cleveland a 55-36 lead.
The Cavaliers scored the first basket in the second half, but the Magic cut the lead to 10 midway through the third, and Nikola Vucevic's two free throws made it 72-68 going into the fourth.
Victor Oladipo's basket to open the period cut the lead to two points.
Thompson had 14 rebounds for Cleveland. Vucevic scored 20 points for the Magic, and Tobias Harris added 19.
Cleveland has won all three matchups with Orlando this season.
Both teams have been linked to trade talks. Reports have indicated the Cavaliers have told teams Deng is available. The veteran moved into the starting small forward spot after being acquired from Chicago on Jan. 7, but can become a free agent after the season.
"In 10 years, my name has come up a lot. I never fell into rumors or what goes around," Deng said. "I just have to have the mindset that I'm here, then at the end of the day whatever happens, I have to deal with that situation."
In addition to Davis, it's been reported that the Magic would also be open to dealing Afflalo and Jameer Nelson.
Waiters was injured against Philadelphia and had an MRI on Wednesday. Waiters said on his Twitter account that the knee is sore, but nothing is torn.
Cavaliers guard C.J. Miles sprained his left ankle while driving to the basket in the fourth quarter. He hit the floor hard and was down for several moments. Miles remained in the game to hit the two free throws before limping to the locker room.
NOTES: While the Cavaliers are listing Varejao as being out with a back injury, he's been dealing with an assortment of ailments, including a sore knee. The team hopes some time off will help his injuries heal up. ... Orlando's last road win came on Dec. 16, an 83-82 victory over Chicago. Deng led the Bulls with 26 points in that game. ... The Magic's 11 points in the first quarter were a season low for any period. ... The Magic lost 87-81 in overtime at Cleveland on Jan. 2 as Varejao tied the Cavaliers record with 25 rebounds.