CLEVELAND (AP) — Chris Paul had 22 points and 11 assists, Ryan Anderson added 21 points and the Houston Rockets became the latest team to thump Cleveland on national TV, beating the disconnected Cavaliers 120-88 on Saturday night.
James Harden only scored 16 — 15 below his league-leading average — but Houston rolled to its fourth straight win and improved to 11-2 since Jan. 8.
Meanwhile, the Cavs’ downward spiral accelerated.
Since losing at Golden State on Christmas, LeBron James and his teammates are 0-8 in network broadcasts and have been embarrassed in several matchups against quality teams. They lost by 28 at Minnesota, 34 in Toronto, 24 at home to Oklahoma City and 32 to the Rockets, who toyed with the defending Eastern Conference champs.
James finished with just 11 points and didn’t play in the fourth quarter as the Rockets were too far ahead. Isaiah Thomas scored 12 for Cleveland.
The Cavs played their second game without injured All-Star forward Kevin Love, who could be out two months with a broken left hand suffered earlier this week.
Love’s injury hurts, obviously, but there are far bigger issues with a Cleveland team that has lost 12 of 18 and appears to be tearing apart at the seams.
With the Rockets up 35 in the third quarter, the Cavs didn’t even bother to huddle during a timeout. Thomas and J.R. Smith sat at the middle of the scorer’s table while James and other players wandered near the bench area as coach Tyronn Lue and his staff tried to figure what to do next.
The Cavs actually did a decent job on Harden, who recorded the first 60-point triple-double earlier in the week against Orlando. Harden went just 5 of 14 from the field.
Down 26 at halftime, James and the Cavs walked off the floor hearing boos from Cleveland fans who have grown tired of their lack of defense, chemistry and commitment.
With the trade deadline on Thursday, Cleveland might need to make a major move to have any chance of getting back to its fourth straight Finals. This group isn’t getting it done.
Lue said it would be a “team challenge” to slow down Harden.
“‘You have to show him different looks,” Lue said before the game. “I just don’t think you can let a great player get comfortable showing him the same kind of defensive schemes. You’ve got to mix it up to keep him off balance, just try to make him make field goals and not free throws.”
Early on, Cleveland tried several players on Harden, but Paul did the damage. He made three 3-pointers in the first quarter, helping ignite the Rockets and push them to a 14-point lead.
Houston opened the second quarter with three more 3s — the Rockets started 8 of 12 behind the arc — and when Anderson drained another 3-pointer, the Rockets’ lead had swelled to 48-23.
Rockets: Harden, who went 1 for 11 on 3s, tweaked his ankle in the third quarter, but stayed in. … Attempted 51 3-pointers, making 19 — the most ever against the Cavs. … Paul passed Andre Miller (8,624) for ninth place on the career assists list. … G Eric Gordon (lower back stiffness) missed his second consecutive game, but coach Mike D’Antoni expects the team’s second-leading scorer to play Tuesday in Brooklyn. … Paul is closing in on 2,000 career steals. When he reaches the plateau, he’ll join Gary Payton, Jason Kidd and John Stockton as the only players with 8,000 assists and 2,000 steals.
Cavaliers: Love met with reporters before the game and acknowledged he’s “still down” after suffering his third broken hand in 10 seasons. He said the previous two times he recovered more quickly than expected. … Dwyane Wade passed Payton (21,813) points and moved into 32nd place on the career list. .. General manager Koby Altman was back in plenty of time for tip-off after attending the St. John’s-Duke game in New York. The No. 4 Blue Devils were upset at Madison Square Garden.
Rockets: Visit Brooklyn on Tuesday.
Cavaliers: At Orlando on Tuesday, starting a stretch of four of five games on the road before the All-Star break.
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