LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers play host to the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday. Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI | License Photo
CLEVELAND -- If a pro basketball game were ever to be fought over a billboard, the Cavaliers-Sixers matchup Thursday in Cleveland would be it.
This week, a Philadelphia-area business paid for three billboards in the Cleveland area recruiting LeBron James to the 76ers. James can be a free agent at season's end, and he has ties with Sixers rookie point guard Ben Simmons.
The Cavs, of course, would prefer their three-time champion and four-time MVP stay right where he is.
"You can say it's a distraction, it's not," James said. "It is actually very flattering that I'm sitting here at 33 and in my 15th year and teams or guys -- I don't want to say teams because that becomes tampering. But people in their respective city want me to play for them. That's cool I think. That's dope."
James is averaging 30 points, 13.5 rebounds and 9.5 assists in two wins over the Sixers already this season. He's coming off a month of February in which he averaged a triple-double for the entire month (27 points, 10.5 rebounds and 10.5 assists), the first time he's ever done it.
The Cavs have won 11 straight against the Sixers and 14 out of the last 15. So, yeah, one could see how Philly fans might want James.
The Sixers are in the middle of a playoff push themselves for the first time since the 2012 season. They're in seventh place in the East, four games ahead of ninth-place Detroit.
But Philadelphia has lost the last two games and six of the last seven on the road, including a tough 102-101 setback to the Miami Heat on Tuesday. Former Cav Dwyane Wade buried the game winner -- a 21-foot jumper with 5.9 seconds left.
James watched the final seconds from the Cavs' locker room, calling out Wade's steps and shot before he took them, and lamenting JJ Redick's miss at a 3 as time expired that would've won it for the Sixers.
"If we would have won those two games, I think we would have had a chance to be third or fourth in the conference," said Joel Embiid, according to philly.com. "So we have to keep the same focus and win some more games."
Third place in the East belongs to the Cavs, who beat the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday 129-123 and lead the Washington Wizards by one game.
Cleveland is trying to gain ground on Toronto and Boston with four new players added at the Feb. 8 trade deadline who have all assumed key roles on the Cavs.
In Tuesday's win, new point guard George Hill scored a season high 26 points; Jordan Clarkson added 14 points, including a clutch 3-pointer late; Rodney Hood scored 11 of his 14 points in the fourth quarter; and Larry Nance Jr. notched a double-double (10 points, 10 rebounds). They closed the game alongside James.
"I just want to see what I'm working with," Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. "I really don't know the guys that much, that well. Just want to see in big moments, pressure situations, how they perform. They performed well and they've been performing well."
The Sixers waived Trevor Booker on Wednesday and agreed to buyout his contract in order to clear space for Ersan Ilyasova, who was bought out of his deal by the Atlanta Hawks.
Ilyasova played 53 games with Philadelphia last season, averaging 14.8 points and 5.9 rebounds, before being traded to Atlanta on Feb. 22, 2017.
He averaged 10.9 points and 5.5 rebounds in 46 contests for Atlanta this season.