NBA

Shorthanded Cavaliers gear up for Bucks

CLEVELAND -- The Cavaliers are pretty bad without LeBron James.

But they could be really shorthanded Monday night when they host the Milwaukee Bucks in the finale of a four-game homestand and the last of what's been a great month of games for Cleveland.

James has strep throat. Kyle Korver bruised his knee Saturday night. Kevin Love and J.R. Smith are already out recovering from surgeries.

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And while free-agent point guard Deron Williams is expected to sign with the Cavs on Monday, he might not be available for the evening's game against the Bucks.

Enter Kyrie Irving, who's coming off a 34-point game in Cleveland's loss to the Chicago Bulls Saturday night and is averaging a career-high 24.6 points per game this season.

"My mindset doesn't change too much," Irving said, when asked about playing without James. "I understand there's a few extra shots I have to take, but I also have to create a lot more plays for my teammates. ... The start of the game, throughout the game, understanding I'm going to need other guys in position to play at an even higher level, especially when we have a gap like 'Bron not playing. You just take it as that and try to put guys in great position to succeed."

Irving nearly notched a triple-double with a season-high nine rebounds and seven assists in a 117-99 loss to the Bulls. He's scored at least 20 points in his last eight games, and needs one more assist to become the eighth player in team history with 2,000 career assists.

But when James doesn't play -- his status is to be determined, as is Korver's -- Irving's presence makes almost no difference. The Cavs are 4-19 without James since the start of the 2014 season and zero for their last seven. Irving was out for at least a couple of those games, but the point remains the same.

The Bucks, meanwhile, lost forward Jabari Parker for the season Feb. 8 to a torn ACL. They improved to 4-3 without him Sunday by beating the Phoenix Suns 100-96. Giannis Antetokounmpo led all players with 28 points and shot 11-of-13 from the field. Antetokounmpo and Cleveland's James are two of only five players in the NBA this season to be averaging at least 20 points and shooting better than 50 percent from the field.

Michael Beasley scored 17 points off the bench. Malcolm Brogdon scored 15 points to go with seven assists in a reserve role. Former Cavs' sixth man Matthew Dellavedova struggled mightily, failing to score on 0-of-6 shooting.

Tony Snell (13 points, 3-of-6 3-pointers) and Korver are the NBA's top two 3-point shooters since Jan. 1 -- they're both shooting better than 51 percent.

"Lot of good stuff," Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. "Thought we were growing up, this is a growing up game. We're growing, we're going in the right direction."

Khris Middleton, who made his first start this season and finished with eight points and seven rebounds in 28 minutes, will not travel to Cleveland for the game, Kidd said. Middleton missed the first 50 games this season with a torn left hamstring.