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Best of NBA: Balanced Pacers hand Cavaliers 4th straight loss

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Best of NBA: Balanced Pacers hand Cavaliers 4th straight loss

CLEVELAND -- Thaddeus Young scored 26 points, Darren Collison had 25 and the Indiana Pacers sent the Cleveland Cavaliers to their fourth straight loss, 124-107 on Wednesday night.

LeBron James had 33 points and 11 assists, but it wasn't enough to keep Cleveland from losing for the fifth time in six games and falling to 3-5.

The Cavaliers held a lengthy meeting before Tuesday's practice to discuss their struggles, but the defending Eastern Conference champions have lost by a combined margin of 58 points in their losing streak.

James was upbeat about the meeting, but the Cavaliers still have issues to work out, especially on the defensive end. Cleveland led 69-68 in the third quarter, but Indiana hit four straight 3-pointers and built an eight-point lead.

Indiana was 16 of 26 from 3-point range. Cleveland had allowed the second most 3-pointers in the league going into the game.

Victor Oladipo scored 23 points for the Pacers. Bojan Bogdanovic added 17, and Domantas Sabonis had 15 points and 12 rebounds (see full recap).

Irving, Brown spark Celtics to 6th straight win
BOSTON -- Kyrie Irving and Jaylen Brown each scored 22 points in three quarters, and the Boston Celtics coasted past the skidding Sacramento Kings 113-86 on Wednesday night for their sixth straight victory.

It was the Celtics' 11th consecutive win over the Kings in Boston, dating to their last loss on Jan. 19, 2007. Terry Rozier added 12 points, and Daniel Theis had 10 points with 10 rebounds.

Buddy Hield scored 17 points and Zach Randolph 16 for the Kings, who lost their sixth in a row -- the last three by an average of 24 points.

Boston led 58-45 at halftime and took complete control early in the third quarter, pushing it to 66-47 on Irving's second 3-pointer in the opening two minutes.

Brown hit consecutive 3-pointers -- 27 seconds apart -- during a 17-2 run that made it 87-56 late in the third. Irving had seven points during the spree, including his third from beyond the arc in the quarter.

The Celtics led 89-60 after three (see full recap).

Hornets top Bucks despite Middleton’s 43 points
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Kemba Walker had 26 points, rookie Malik Monk had a huge fourth quarter and the Charlotte Hornets put the clamps on the NBA's leading scorer to beat the Milwaukee Bucks 126-121 on Wednesday night.

Walker was 8 for 12 from the field, including 3 for 4 from 3-point range and 7 for 7 from the foul line as Charlotte won its third straight game. Monk, the team's first-round draft pick from Kentucky, had 18 of his 25 points in the pivotal fourth quarter to help the Hornets build a double-digit lead with Giannis Antetokounmpo forced to sit out with five fouls.

Antetokounmpo came in averaging 33.7 points per game, but struggled with foul trouble and finished with a season-low 14 points along with 13 rebounds. He was limited to five points in the final three quarters.

Khris Middleton led Milwaukee with 43 points on 15-for-28 shooting and Malcolm Brogdon added 20.

The Hornets trailed 86-85 when Antetokounmpo picked up his fifth foul with 36 seconds left in the third quarter.

The Hornets went on a 21-9 run to start the fourth quarter behind rookies Monk and Dwayne Bacon. Monk had four 3-pointers early in the fourth and Bacon made some clutch shots to help stretch the lead (see full recap).

Cavs stuck in 'Strugglesville' but still manage to survive

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Cavs stuck in 'Strugglesville' but still manage to survive

CLEVELAND -- There was none of the usual postgame chatter or music in the Cavaliers locker room.

The mood was somber and quiet, not the same place.

"Right now we're in Strugglesville," LeBron James said. "But it felt like a win. We needed it. Definitely."

Isaiah Thomas made two free throws with 11 seconds left and Cleveland came up with a defensive stop in the frantic final seconds after blowing a 23-point lead to beat the Orlando Magic 104-103 on Thursday night and snap a four-game losing streak.

After Thomas made his shots, Orlando's Elfrid Payton missed a contested layup with three seconds left. The three officials ruled there was an inadvertent whistle and held a jump ball at midcourt.

Magic forward Aaron Gordon grabbed the toss and sank a 45-footer as the horn sounded and Cleveland's crowd shrieked in disbelief. But Gordon committed a jump-ball violation with the move and Cleveland only had to inbound the ball to come away with a victory following a crazy and exhausting final sequence that left everyone dazed.

"No, I don't," said Thomas when asked if he knew what happened. "It was a lot of back and forth. I'm just glad we just came out with the win" (see full recap).

Rockets cruise past Timberwolves in Harden’s return
HOUSTON -- Eric Gordon scored 30 points to lead the Houston Rockets to a 116-98 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Thursday night.

James Harden returned to the Rockets' lineup after missing seven games with a left hamstring strain and finished with 10 points on 3-for-15 shooting, and added seven assists, two steals and two blocks in 26 minutes. Houston went 4-3 in his absence.

Chris Paul had 19 points, nine assists and six rebounds, and Clint Capela added 20 points for the Rockets. Houston has won 15 of the past 17 meetings with Minnesota, including a 10-game winning streak at home.

Gordon closed out a big third quarter by hitting a buzzer-beating 3-pointer off the glass from a step behind the half-court line. After hitting the shot under heavy pressure from Andrew Wiggins, Gordon gave a high-five to Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta, who was sitting courtside near the shot.

Gordon's 3-pointer helped the Rockets finish the third quarter on a 16-4 run to take an 89-70 lead into the fourth with their largest advantage of the game. Gordon made 11 of 19 shots, including 7 of 13 from 3, and fell just short of his season-high 33 points against Utah on Dec. 18.

With Rockets small forward Trevor Ariza sitting out the first part of a two-game suspension for a postgame locker room incident on Monday night in Los Angeles, Luc Mbah a Moute started in Ariza's place, scoring 14 points in 32 minutes.

Along with Ariza, reserve guard Gerald Green was also serving the first of a two-game suspension for the altercation with the Clippers (see full recap).

Blazers top Pacers for 5th straight home win
PORTLAND, Ore. -- Damian Lillard scored 26 points and eight assists, Jusuf Nurkic had 19 points and a season-high 17 rebounds, and the Portland Trail Blazers won their fifth consecutive home game, beating the Indiana Pacers 100-86 on Thursday night.

C.J. McCollum added 16 points and Shabazz Napier 13 for Portland, which seems to have its homecourt mojo back, winning five straight after dropping six consecutive home games in early December. The Blazers also beat Indiana for the ninth consecutive time on their home floor.

Victor Oladipo and Darren Collison scored 23 points each for Indiana.

Portland took control late in the third quarter, when the Blazers held Indiana scoreless for more than five minutes. It was part of Portland's 21-2 run, during which Napier scored eight points to help erase a six-point deficit and give the Blazers an 89-76 lead midway through the fourth quarter.

Indiana was without forward Myles Turner, the team's second-leading scorer this season. Turner has missed five consecutive games with a right elbow injury (see full recap).

Sixers suddenly beating once unbeatable teams

Sixers suddenly beating once unbeatable teams

BOX SCORE

BOSTON — What a difference two games make.

The Sixers entered this week 0-8 against the top three Eastern Conference teams: the Celtics, Cavaliers and Raptors. By Thursday night, they had picked up two straight wins over them.

The Sixers followed up Monday’s victory over the Raptors with an 89-80 win over the Celtics (see observations)

“I think we are in a good position right now,” Ben Simmons said. “Still a lot of improvement, a lot of things we’ve got to pick up on, but I think we are doing really well and getting better.” 

All season long, a downfall of the Sixers has been giving up leads. Ten, 15, 20 points have been erased just like that. 

The Sixers’ largest advantage was 21 points in the last two games, and in both instances their opponents fought back. The Raptors cut the lead to one with three minutes to play; the Celtics got within seven with two minutes on the clock.

Unlike in the past, the Sixers held on for wins.

“We’ve been in that situation too many times,” Joel Embiid said. “We just have to stay calm and keep moving the ball. We made a couple mistakes, but everything was fine and we got the win.” 

The game was missing two key players. The Celtics were shorthanded without their leading scorer, Kyrie Irving (shoulder). The Sixers were down starting shooting guard JJ Redick (leg). Brett Brown considered their absences “almost a wash.” 

Newly-announced All-Star starter Embiid led all players with 26 points, 16 rebounds and six assists, his 19th double-double of the season. 

“They are still a great team,” Brown said of the Celtics. “For us to come in here and build a lead, hold onto the lead, close out the game, and at times not in a pretty way, is a fantastic result for us.” 

With the win, the Sixers snapped a seven-game losing streak at TD Garden dating back to April 4, 2014. They also avoided a regular-season sweep by the Celtics. 

The Sixers moved above .500 (21-20) and into the eight spot in the East. The Celtics and Raptors could be postseason pairings if the Sixers hold their ground in the standings, a scenario they are well aware of in these regular-season games. 

“I don’t know what seed we are going to be, but that’s a potential matchup in the playoffs,” Embiid said. “We always want to come out and try to dominate and let them know that’s it’s not going to be easy.”