(Reuters) - Carlos Boozer and the Chicago Bulls recovered from a slow start to pummel the struggling Cleveland Cavaliers 118-92 on Monday and take over top spot in the Eastern Conference’s Central division.
In-form forward Boozer scored a game-high 24 points along with 11 rebounds, while Luol Deng added 19 points as the Bulls recorded their third straight win, and their 11th in a row over the Cavaliers.
Chicago, who upset NBA champions Miami 96-89 on Friday, shrugged off a disappointing first quarter to improve their overall record to 19-13 and dislodge the Indiana Pacers (20-14) from top spot in the Central standings.
”I‘m just playing off my team mates,“ Boozer told reporters after recording his fifth consecutive double-double. ”Games like this are fun because everybody played so great. We like moments like this.
“We wish all the games could be like this. We’re trying to step it up a little bit and get some more wins. We had a tough last couple of weeks of 2012.”
Guard Dion Waiters, off the bench, led the way with 18 points for the Cavaliers, who slipped to 8-28 following their eighth defeat in their last 11 games.
“That’s a good team,” Cavaliers coach Byron Scott said.
“They’ve just got our number. In the second half, they just turned it up. Their intensity level went way up, and we just couldn’t match it.”
Cleveland, without center Anderson Varejao for the 10th straight game due to a bruised right knee, raced into an early 7-0 lead as their opponents surprisingly struggled to find the hoop and, with forward C.J. Miles pouring in two three-pointers, they ended the first quarter 30-22 up.
But the Bulls gradually clawed their way back, taking the lead for the first time at 33-32 on a Marco Belinelli three-pointer before going into halftime 53-50 ahead.
With Boozer, Deng and center Joakim Noah all sizzling on offense in the third quarter, Chicago stretched their lead to 88-72 and stayed in control throughout the final period.
Noah finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds, one of six Bulls players to reach double figures on the night, while Taj Gibson chipped in with 18 and seven boards off the bench.
”They’re in rhythm now,“ Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau said of his team’s 10-of-14 display in three-point shooting. ”That’s the biggest thing.
“It’s off ball movement, hitting the paint, coming out, (making) the extra pass. They’re rhythm threes. Our percentage has slowly been creeping up.”
The Bulls outshot the Cavaliers by 54 percent to 42 from the field and out-rebounded them 47-31.
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Patrick Johnston/Peter Rutherford