LeBron James isn’t willing to give up his spot as the best player in the NBA, no matter how many minutes he has to play and games he has to drag his team through. James will try to follow up his latest transcendent performance and guide the Cleveland Cavaliers to a seventh straight win when they host the Charlotte Hornets on Friday.
James wasn’t having his best game on Wednesday until he was accidentally hit in the face by Tyler Zeller and needed stitches to close a wound. The superstar responded with 23 of his 33 points in the fourth quarter, including 18 in a row over the final 4:25 to put the game away. “My team looks at me to be that scorer now,” James told reporters. “The last couple of years, Kyrie (Irving) obviously being as great as he was in the fourth quarter, we kind of picked our games. ... But right now, my teammates look at me and they’re like, ‘OK, like this is your quarter. You’ve done this your whole career. Let’s try to make some things happen.’ And it’s very important that I try to come through for them.” Kemba Walker tries to fill a similar role for the Hornets and scored four points in the final 17 seconds of regulation on Wednesday against Washington to force overtime and eventually lead Charlotte to its third straight victory.
TV: 8 p.m. ET, NBATV, FSN Southeast (Charlotte), FSN Ohio (Cleveland)
ABOUT THE HORNETS (8-9): Walker could be forced to shoulder even more of the load for Charlotte if Nicolas Batum, who left Wednesday’s game with an injury to the same elbow that kept him out of the first 12 games, is out for an extended period. Stepping up to fill the void in Wednesday’s win was Jeremy Lamb, who started in Batum’s spot after the break and finished with 24 points, seven rebounds and five assists. “Jeremy (Lamb) was terrific,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford told reporters. “He made the biggest play of the game at plus-three with a blocked shot and then the coast-to-coast drive. ... He’s worked hard. He’s paid his dues. He’s watched good players. He feels like this is his time to play well. He’s in a good place. He’s delivering, that’s what he’s doing.”
ABOUT THE CAVALIERS (11-7): James is still capable of inspiring awe despite ranking among the leaders in minutes (37.7) a month shy of his 33rd birthday. He is averaging 28.6 points while shooting a career-best 58.5 percent from the floor and 42.7 percent from 3-point range, and he went 6-of-6 from the floor during his closing burst on Wednesday. “You can’t force it,” James told reporters. “You’ve got to let it come to you. It’s times when you wish you can do it and sometimes when the ball just doesn’t go in. But I put a lot of work into my craft and I believe that every shot I take is going to go in.”
1. Hornets C Dwight Howard is averaging 22.3 points on 25-of-33 shooting and 16.3 rebounds over the last three games.
2. Cavaliers SG Iman Shumpert (knee) sat out the last two games and is not expected to return until Monday.
3. Cleveland took the last seven in the series, including a 115-107 win at Charlotte on Nov. 15.
PREDICTION: Cavaliers 112, Hornets 103