Triple-double for James as Cavaliers claim Central title

CLEVELAND (Ohio) • It is not the title they ultimately desire, but it is a start. The real work is yet to come for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

LeBron James had 33 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists, and the Cavs used a new-look defence to clinch the National Basketball Association (NBA)'s Central Division title with a 124-91 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Monday.

Cleveland (50-20) endured frustrating moments of inconsistency throughout the season, but still sealed the fifth division crown in the team's history and their ninth 50-win season.

"All is not bad," coach Tyronn Lue said. "We're still growing, we're still getting better on a night-to-night basis and we can celebrate this, but we gotta keep moving forward."

The Cavs scrapped some of their defensive principles that have not been working in the last few weeks and returned to the simplified format that carried them to the NBA Finals last season.

They held the Nuggets to 39.5 per cent shooting on Monday and led by as many as 36 points in the fourth quarter after Denver's five starters combined to match James' 33 points.

"It was embarrassing," Nuggets coach Mike Malone said.

"An embarrassing effort. I haven't seen that from our team most of the year. I'm very disappointed with that."

The game was essentially over after three quarters, and James left to an ovation with six minutes remaining, after securing his second triple-double of the season and also the 41st of his career.

In this season of the unexpected, however, James again made a stir by unfollowing the Cavs from his Twitter account.

The superstar's cryptic messages a few weeks ago on social media set the Internet on fire, as did Monday's revelation that he no longer follows the Cavs.

Asked about the reasoning behind it, James stared down a reporter momentarily before responding simply, "Next question."

Cleveland have fought to stay out of controversy for most of the season. Locker room issues led to the firing of coach David Blatt at midseason, while the play of fellow stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love also seemed to aggravate James at times this season.

Still, they remain atop the conference and hold a slim one-game lead over the Toronto Raptors for home-court advantage in the East play-offs.

In Minneapolis, the Golden State Warriors recovered from their weekend defeat with a 109-104 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Stephen Curry had a modest night by his standards, but still contributed 19 points as the Warriors moved to 63-7 - just 10 wins away from setting a new record for the best regular season in NBA history.

Draymond Green was the star for the Warriors, scoring 24 points as the visitors overturned a three-point deficit with six minutes remaining to avoid suffering their first back-to-back losses of the season.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 23, 2016, with the headline 'Triple-double for James as Cavaliers claim Central title'. Print Edition | Subscribe