LeBron James and the Cavaliers look ready for the marquee matchup in the NBA this season, a Christmas Day game against the Golden State Warriors.
James scored 19 points, Kevin Love added 14 points and 15 rebounds, and Cleveland rolled past the Brooklyn Nets, 119-99 on Friday night.
Cleveland, which has won four straight and nine of 10, hosts Golden State on Sunday in a rematch of the last two NBA Finals. The defending champion Cavaliers (22-6) never trailed against the Nets and built a 46-point lead in the third quarter.
The postgame talk focused more on Sunday – which marks the second straight year Cleveland and Golden State have played on Christmas – than the rout of the Nets.
”It’s great,” James said. ”Christmas Day for our fans is the biggest day for our season, besides we have All-Star and then finals. I’m happy I’m part of it once again.”
The lopsided margin gave the Cavaliers a chance to rest their stars heading into Sunday’s showdown. James, Love and Kyrie Irving, who had 13 points and 10 assists, were all removed with 3:57 remaining in the third quarter and Cleveland leading 90-48.
”There will definitely be high emotions in both locker rooms,” Irving said. ”That’s a given. If you’re not getting up for this game, all the great players who will be on the floor at one time, you shouldn’t be in there.”
Tristan Thompson, who had 16 points and 11 rebounds, was also taken out late in the third.
Love returned after missing two games because of a bruised left knee.
Brook Lopez scored 16 points for the Nets, whose first possession of the game ended when Justin Hamilton’s pass sailed into the third row of the seats. They have lost five straight, including games on back-to-back nights against the Warriors and Cavaliers.
Cleveland’s only loss in its last 10 games came when coach Tyronn Lue chose to rest James, Love and Irving against Memphis on Dec. 14, a 93-85 defeat.
The Cavaliers will face the Warriors without starting guard J.R. Smith, who could be sidelined until the end of the regular season following surgery Friday for a broken right thumb.
”We’re going against a great team,” James said. ”They’re a well-oiled machine.”
Mike Dunleavy scored a season-high 14 points for Cleveland. Spencer Dinwiddie scored 13 points while Sean Kilpatrick added 12 for the Nets, who are 1-14 on the road and have lost 11 straight away from home.
”They came out and jumped on us immediately,” Lopez said. ”We seemed a bit timid and tentative, and they’re a team that definitely feeds off that.”
Nets: F Anthony Bennett was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 draft by the Cavaliers, but only spent one year with them. He’s averaging 4.7 points and 3.6 rebounds for Brooklyn, his fourth NBA team. … G Joe Harris, drafted by Cleveland in 2014, is averaging 9.8 points. … F Trevor Booker was given the night off to rest.
Cavaliers: G DeAndre Liggins started for the second straight game in place of Smith and scored three points. Smith’s injury is also expected to result in more playing time for Dunleavy, who came into Friday averaging 4.3 points. … Cleveland is 9-0 against the Atlantic Division.
Golden State defeated Cleveland in six games in the 2015 finals. The Cavaliers rallied from a 3-1 deficit to win last season’s championship. Lue was asked if their matchup can approach the Lakers-Celtics rivalry of the 1980s.
”Both teams stay together and continue to keep winning, it could be like that,” he said. ”They have a great team and we have a great team, also. When you talk basketball, you’re going to talk Golden State, Cleveland, San Antonio. It’s a great place to be in.”
Nets: Host Charlotte on Monday. The Hornets have won five straight over Brooklyn.
Cavaliers: After hosting the Warriors on Sunday, the teams meet again at Golden State on Jan. 16.