Surging Cavs surprise Bucks; Hornets rout Pacers

Khris Middleton of the Milwaukee Bucks (left) fouls Kevin Love of the Cleveland Cavaliers during the third quarter at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse on January 26, 2022 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Cavaliers defeated the Bucks 115-99. (AFP)

The Cleveland Cavaliers continued their NBA resurgence Wednesday with a convincing 115-99 victory over the reigning champion Milwaukee Bucks that helped propel them into third place in the Eastern Conference.

As the Miami Heat maintained their hold on top spot in the east with a 110-96 victory over the New York Knicks, the Cavs slipped ahead of the Bucks and into fourth with their eighth win in nine games.

They moved up another spot when the short-handed Brooklyn Nets fell to Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets 124-118.

Kevin Love scored 25 points, Cedi Osman added 23 and Cleveland drained 19 three-pointers as they continued their impressive run of form.

Darius Garland had 19 points and eight assists for the Cavaliers and Evan Mobley contributed 16.

"It was huge," veteran Love said of the victory over the reigning champions. "We beat a very, very good team tonight.

"And if we stay true to our principles and true to who we are as a team, I think sky's the limit for us," Love added of a Cavaliers team that finished 22-50 last season.

Two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo returned from a one-game injury absence to score 26 points for Milwaukee. But the Greek star had seven of the Bucks' 19 turnovers -- which led to 31 Cavaliers points.

Cleveland also scored 19 second-chance points off 12 offensive rebounds as Milwaukee saw their three-game winning streak end.

Bobby Portis scored 22 points and Khris Middleton chipped in 21 for the Bucks, who led by 12 in the first quarter, trailed by eight at halftime and never led in the second half.

In Miami, Duncan Robinson led the Heat with 25 points, Jimmy Butler scored 22 and Tyler Herro returned after missing three games over COVID concerns to score 21 off the bench as the Heat led wire-to-wire against the Knicks.

They maintained a half-game lead atop the East over the Chicago Bulls, who beat the Toronto Raptors 111-105.

The Nets, third in the East going into the night, were still without injured Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving -- whose decision not to be vaccinated for COVID means he can't play home games.

James Harden, who had a 33-point triple-double in a loss to the Lakers on Tuesday, sat out with a sore hamstring, but the Nets still managed to challenge a Nuggets team led by reigning MVP Jokic's 26 points and 10 rebounds.

The Nets led 65-54 after a first half that featured 14 lead changes. But Denver out-scored them 42-26 in the third quarter and never trailed in the fourth.

Hornets go big

Elsewhere, the Charlotte Hornets made 24 three-pointers in a 158-126 victory over the Indiana Pacers -- racking up the highest points total in an NBA game this season and setting a club record for most points scored in a game.

Kelly Oubre made 10 three-pointers on the way to a career-high 39 points. LaMelo Ball posted his fourth triple-double of the season with 29 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds.

"We just wanted to play hard," Oubre said after four Charlotte players scored 20 or more points.

The Los Angeles Clippers, coming off an epic comeback victory over the Washington Wizards on Tuesday, rallied again to beat the Magic 111-102 in Orlando.

The Clippers erased a 14-point deficit -- small change compared to the 35-point hole they escaped against Washington -- and out-scored Orlando 35-24 in the fourth quarter to get to 25-25 for the season.

Amir Coffey scored 19 points and Luke Kennard, whose four-point play sealed Tuesday's win, added 17.