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Cleveland Cavaliers welcome LeBron James back in 102-95 win

By
The Sports Xchange
NBA China's monthly magazine, featuring a front-page story on Lebron James, is sold in Beijing on February 27, 2017. American NBA stars are revered by manyChinese students, with many Chinese bars and restaurants televising live NBA games. The NBA considers China as its next largest market for fans and merchandise sales after the United States. Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI
NBA China's monthly magazine, featuring a front-page story on Lebron James, is sold in Beijing on February 27, 2017. American NBA stars are revered by manyChinese students, with many Chinese bars and restaurants televising live NBA games. The NBA considers China as its next largest market for fans and merchandise sales after the United States. Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo

CLEVELAND -- The LeBron James formula remains.

When he plays, the Cleveland Cavaliers win more often than not. When he's out, so are they.

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James scored 24 points upon return from his bout with strep throat and the Cavaliers beat the Milwaukee Bucks 102-95 on Monday night.

James added 10 rebounds and six assists after missing Saturday night's loss to Chicago because he was ill. The Cavaliers are 41-12 with him this season, and 0-4 on nights he doesn't play.

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"What would anybody's team be without their best player," said Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue, who it should be said is also now battling a sore throat. "And with him being the best player in the world, he brings so much to our team. The way he can defend, rebound the basketball, get guys involved, get guys easy shots, can score the basketball, knowing when to pick and choose his spots, when to be aggressively offensively but also getting guys involved.

"He's just a winner. Anybody that goes to The Finals six straight times is a winner. He just makes everyone better, myself included."

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Cleveland finished February with a 9-2 record and in first place in the Eastern Conference. The Cavaliers averaged 117.4 points this month, setting a franchise record for scoring in a month. The old record was 117.2 in October of 1979.

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"February is over, huh? Yeah, that (stinks)," James said. "It's been a great month for our team. We just played good basketball. We got back to Cavalier basketball and to our DNA, so it definitely helped a lot."

Kyrie Irving led all scorers with 20 points and added nine assists for the Cavaliers. It was his ninth consecutive game with at least 20 points.

Derrick Williams contributed 14 points and Kyle Korver chimed in with 13 off Cleveland's bench. Williams has scored in double figures in four of seven games since joining the Cavaliers on Feb. 9 and is shooting .568 during that stretch.

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Richard Jefferson started instead of Channing Frye and added 11 points and six boards.

Rookie Malcolm Brogdon led the Bucks with 20 points.

Giannis Antetokounmpo struggled with his shooting (4 of 13) and finished with nine points, seven rebounds and eight assists. He hadn't scored less than 28 in his previous three games.

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Antetokounmpo attempted 39 free throws in the first three games against Cleveland this season, and took just four Monday.

"In the first three games it was much easier to get into the paint," Antetokounmpo said. "Tonight it was a little bit harder because they were expecting us. Especially when we don't have (Bucks forward Michael) Beasley out there it makes it tough."

Beasley fell awkwardly after he fouled James with 8:34 in the second quarter and grabbed his left knee. He was helped off the court and into the locker room.

Milwaukee called the injury a knee sprain, and Beasley was done for the night. He scored 11 points in eight minutes.

"Hopefully he is alright," Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. "As we saw he was unable to keep playing, but we will have to see how he is when he sees the doctor tomorrow."

Irving, now in his sixth season, became the eighth player in Cavaliers history with 2,000 career assists. He reached the milestone with his first assist of the first quarter.

"It's good from a guy who doesn't pass," Irving said. "It's good. It's nice,"

The Cavaliers used an 11-0 spurt that started with James' thunderous dunk (and foul shot) with 4:47 left to seal the game.

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NOTES: G Deron Williams signed a free-agent contract with the Cavs for the rest of the season on Monday. The contract is for $407,000 -- prorated from the veteran's minimum $1.55 million. ... Cleveland is "hopeful" to sign C Andrew Bogut if he clears waivers at 5 p.m. Wednesday. Bogut was placed on waivers by the 76ers on Monday. Bogut's career began in Milwaukee in 2005. ... Bucks F Michael Beasley was back in the starting lineup for Khris Middleton, who didn't make the trip after making his first start this season for Milwaukee on Sunday in a win over Phoenix. Middleton missed 50 games in 2016-17 with a ruptured left hamstring. ... The Cavs start a three-game road trip in Boston on Wednesday night.

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