Cavaliers blast Nuggets, clinch Central title

Mon Mar 21, 2016 11:43pm EDT
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(The Sports Xchange) - It isn't the title they ultimately desire, but it's a start. The real work is yet to come for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

LeBron James had 33 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists, and the Cavs used a new-look defense to clinch the Central Division title with a 124-91 victory Monday night against the Denver Nuggets.

Cleveland (50-20) endured frustrating moments of inconsistency throughout the season, but it still sealed the fifth division crown in team history and its ninth 50-win season.

"All is not bad," Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. "We're still growing, we're still getting better on a night-to-night basis and we can celebrate this, but we gotta keep moving forward."

The Cavs scrapped some of their defensive principles that haven't been working the last few weeks and returned to the simplified format that carried them to the NBA Finals last season. They held the Nuggets to 39.5 percent shooting Monday and led by as many as 36 in the fourth quarter after Denver's five starters combined to match James' 33 points.

"It was embarrassing," Nuggets coach Mike Malone said. "An embarrassing effort. I haven't seen that from our team most of the year. I'm very disappointed with that."

The Cavs built a 19-point lead in the first quarter when they scored 38 points, their most in an opening quarter all season. However, they give it all back in the second when Nuggets reserve guard Will Barton scored 16 of his team-high 27.

Cleveland went scoreless for more than six minutes while the Nuggets scored 17 consecutive points mainly off the Cavs' reserves. When James and the starters returned, the Cavs reclaimed momentum.

The game was essentially over after three quarters, and James left to an ovation with six minutes remaining after securing his second triple-double of the season and the 41st of his career.   Continued...

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) celebrates with guard J.R. Smith (5) while leaving the game with a triple-double during the fourth quarter against the Denver Nuggets at Quicken Loans Arena. The Cavs won 124-91. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports