LeBron James went flying down the lane and posterized two Nets — Joe Harris and Dante Cunningham — with one mighty right-handed dunk late in the first quarter on Sunday, generating audible awe throughout the crowd at Barclays Center.
LeBron and the retooled Cavaliers still trailed through three quarters, before pulling out a 121-114 victory for their fifth straight win — the last four without ill coach Tyronn Lue — to continue rolling back up the Eastern Conference standings with the playoffs rapidly approaching next month.
“We’re just trying to get better,” James said after finishing with 37 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists in 38 minutes. “Even with everything that’s going on with our ballclub, our coach being out, some of our players being out, we’re just trying to continue to get better no matter who’s in the lineup. That’s the goal.
“We’re just trying to learn every day. If we can do that every day, continue to get better, we’ll be the best we can going into the postseason.”
The Cavs, whose recent surge has moved them back into the third playoff position in the East (44-29), overhauled their stagnant lineup by adding four rotation players in multiple deals at the Feb. 8 trade deadline in George Hill, Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr.
With Jeff Green (illness) and Kyle Korver (death in the family) unavailable on Sunday, Hill started alongside former Knicks guard Jose Calderon in the backcourt and chipped in 17 points.
Kevin Love, who returned last week from a seven-week absence due to a broken hand, added 20 points and 15 rebounds, while Hood and Clarkson contributed 19 of their combined 34 points off the bench in the fourth quarter.
“We got (defensive) stops and Rodney Hood played exceptionally well down the stretch, and on the offensive end, George Hill, as well. When we get stops, we’re very dynamic and that’s what we did,” James said. “They all bring something different. Rodney, George, Jordan, Larry, they all bring something different for our team. They continue to get more and more comfortable, and with what we want to accomplish, we become better and better. You saw that tonight. They just all picked it up.
“It’s a good mix for us…and we’ve still got a little time. We don’t have our full unit, still.”
That unit, as always, is fronted by LeBron, the four-time NBA MVP who continues to post eye-popping numbers at 33, leading the Cavs with averages of 27.5 points, 9.1 assists and 8.6 rebounds per game.
“We’re feeling the fact that this thing is winding down. We know what the race is in the East and the focus is to play these last games and develop some type of rhythm,” interim coach Larry Drew said. “LeBron once again was spectacular…Look at that stat sheet, it’s not just about points, it’s what he’s doing on the board and from an assists standpoint. He’s just a force. He has put up MVP numbers, without a doubt.”