Blazers extend win streak to 11 with victory over injury-riddled Cavs

PORTLAND, Ore. -- LeBron James sized up the Portland Trail Blazers' defense in the first quarter Thursday as he dribbled the ball on their pinwheel logo near center court. Rodney Hood and Kyle Korver came up to set a double screen, giving James just enough space to turn the corner on Al-Farouq Aminu when he was still beyond the 3-point line, and he attacked the rim with no regard for the 7-foot, 280-pound Jusuf Nurkic positioned between him and the basket.

James, wearing orange Nike LeBron 15 sneakers that were so bright they looked like they were fashioned out of a crossing guard's vest, took off from outside the paint and finished with a vicious dunk on Nurkic.

"I'm pretty much, 'Let's see who can meet at the apex.' So that was my whole mindset," James said. "... I knew it was going to be a good one that's going to be shown for a long time. I was more excited to look over and see my teammates, how excited they were. So that one will last forever in my highlights from my career, even when I'm done."

The dunk might have decimated the Blazers center, but the Cavaliers' decimated roster could not keep up with Portland as the night wore on, losing 113-105, as the Blazers extended their win streak to 11.

The Cavs, playing without the bulk of their big men, with Kevin Love (fractured left hand), Tristan Thompson (sprained right ankle) and Larry Nance Jr. (pulled right hamstring) out, were dominated on the glass (50-34) and in second-chance scoring (20-4), and the Blazers transferred their control of the game from the inside to the outside. Rodney Hood also aggravated his sore back and was limited to 19 minutes in his return to the lineup, further adding to the Cavs' injury woes.

As well as James played -- finishing with 35 points on 15-of-25 shooting, 14 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals and 3 blocks -- Portland's backcourt duo of CJ McCollum (29 points) and Damian Lillard (24 points and 9 assists) were too much.

"I just loved our approach from the beginning until the end," James said. "Obviously, we're shorthanded and they took advantage of our size. We gave up 20 second-chance points and offensive rebounds, we played good defense for 24 seconds, but a team like this, that has been playing so well, you can't give them second-chance points and second opportunities. They make you pay, and they did."

Curiously, with his team lacking size, Cavs coach Tyronn Lue only gave six minutes to backup center Ante Zizic, even though the 6-foot-11 rookie averaged 13 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in Cleveland's last two games coming into the night. Zizic finished with zero points and zero rebounds Thursday.

Korver had his second strong start at shooting guard, finishing with 19 points on 7-of-13 shooting after scoring 22 points in a win over Phoenix on Tuesday. And Jeff Green, playing out of position at the 5, put up 16 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists.

But Cleveland fell down by 15 in the third quarter and never got closer than 3 points -- on a corner 3 by George Hill with 2:58 remaining in the fourth quarter -- the rest of the way. Portland responded with a 5-0 spurt after the Hill bucket.

All in all, despite going just 12-for-21 (57.1 percent) from the free throw line and having the aforementioned struggles in the rebounding department, it was a better game than the Cavs usually play at the Moda Center. Cleveland had gone 0-3 in the building, losing by a combined 64 points, since James' return to the team four years ago.

The loss dropped Cleveland (39-29) back to No. 4 in the East with 14 games left to play, a half-game behind the Indiana Pacers (40-29).

The Cavs finish off their six-game road trip Saturday in Chicago against the Bulls with a chance to salvage a 3-3 record and should have some help on the way in Nance Jr., who said he expects to return.