CLEVELAND (AP) — LeBron James scored 23 points, Kevin Love had 24 and the Cleveland Cavaliers pushed their winning streak to 12 games Thursday night with an easy 105-94 win over the Los Angeles Clippers, who also lost their composure.
The Cavs built a 32-point lead in the third quarter, allowing James and Love to sit out the fourth and rest. With their longest winning streak since a franchise-best 13-gamer in 2010, the Cavs moved into first place in the Central Division. Cleveland was seven games behind Chicago when the streak began with a victory over the Lakers on Jan. 15.
The Clippers were whistled for five technical fouls, including four in a contentious third quarter when they lost their California cool and forward Matt Barnes was ejected.
Blake Griffin scored 16 and Jamal Crawford 13 for Los Angeles, whose subs made the score respectable in the fourth.
On Jan. 16, the Cavs beat the Clippers 126-121 for the second win in their streak. Cleveland was a different team back then, "in disarray" as Clippers coach Doc Rivers put it before the game. But the Cavs are now connecting at both ends of the floor, first-year coach David Blatt has his team's attention and Cleveland is looking every bit like an NBA title contender.
The Clippers figured to be a strong test for the Cavaliers, but were no match as Cleveland won its eighth straight over Western Conference opponents.
The Cavs led by 23 at halftime and the Clippers began to unravel emotionally early in the third. Barnes was called for a technical for shoving Love, and seconds later, Chris Paul got a technical for something he said to referee Lauren Holtkamp. DeAndre Jordan was assessed a technical for taunting, and Barnes was sent to the locker room for muttering a choice word to official Eric Lewis. Barnes had to be restrained by his teammates from charging after Lewis.
James and his teammates produced some highlight-package plays in the first half, when the Cavs moved the ball well on offense, clamped down on defense and built a 65-42 lead.
With a national TV audience watching, James drove down the lane for a two-handed slam and followed it up moments later with another strong layup. Cleveland's passing was superb, and Kyrie Irving, who made only one field goal, had the best assist of the first 24 minutes when he fed James for an alley-oop dunk to give the Cavaliers a 21-point lead.
J.R. Smith's 3-pointer put the Cavs up 23, and after the Clippers failed to get off a last-second shot, several Los Angeles players, including Griffin and Barnes, briefly stayed on the floor as if in shock.
After scoring a season-low five points Monday against Philadelphia, Love came out aggressively. He scored 10 points in the first 3 minutes, setting the tone for the Cavaliers.
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