NBA Basketball

Cavaliers look to bounce back against Kings

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers have suffered only the occasional dip during the past two months. If the Sacramento Kings don't find some of the energy that marked a pretty good road trip, Cleveland's latest slip won't be long either.

The Cavaliers will be fresh off a 99-92 Christmas Day loss when they face the Kings on Tuesday night at Golden 1 Center. Bad shooting, questionable whistles and a less-than-stellar effort from their reserves sent the Cavs to only their fourth loss in 24 games since Nov. 5.

They haven't lost back-to-back since a four-game slide during the season's first month sent false signals that Cleveland's three-year stranglehold on the Eastern Conference might be in jeopardy.

Not anymore. In fact, the league's reigning championship coach believes James may be better and his team more dangerous than ever.

"What he has done with his game is just incredible," Warriors coach Steve Kerr told reporters of James, who is averaging 28.1 points, 9.1 assists and 8.1 rebounds while playing 28 minutes per game in his 15th season. "He's always been a dominant physical force from Year 1, but the skill at this point is better than it's ever been. You always have to contend with him in many ways. It feels like you have to contend with him in more ways now."

James scored 20 points on 7-of-18 shooting against the Warriors and has carried the load of Cleveland's offense alongside Kevin Love, who tallied 31 points and 18 rebounds against the Warriors and is averaging 20.1 points and 10.4 rebounds in 30 minutes per game this season.

However, the Cavaliers found their footing when their reserves began to show effectiveness.

Against Golden State, Cleveland's reserves struggled to contribute only 21 points on 6-of-26 shooting. Normally, Cleveland's reserves average about 40 points per game on 45 percent shooting.

"Their second unit is much better than it's been," Kerr said after the game. "When LeBron goes off the floor now, it feels like they're much more capable of sustaining the effort."

Effort continues to be the key word for Sacramento. The Kings (11-22) have dropped two straight by a combined 46 points, the latest a 122-95 thrashing in Los Angeles against the Clippers on Monday night.

Sacramento allowed a season-worst 71 points in the first half, and opponents have blazed away for 52.3 percent shooting over the past two games, with 60 assists on 88 baskets.

The Clippers' reserves also scored 72 points.

"The level of focus, and being ready to go and being experienced in preparation and taking it out (onto the court), a lot of these guys are learning these things on the fly," Kings coach Dave Joerger told reporters. "We've been making a lot of strides but took a step back."

Both losses have come since Joerger inserted guard Buddy Hield and center Willie Cauley-Stein back into the starting lineup.

Hield scored only 10 points against the Clippers on 4-of-9 shooting, and Cauley-Stein managed 17 points on 8-of-10 shooting and seven rebounds.

Updated December 27, 2017

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