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Cavs stars shine in win over Brooklyn, 116-108

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NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Brooklyn Nets Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

BROOKLYN, N.Y. —  When the other team has guys like LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, it really isn’t easy to win.

The Nets (8-27) fought, but lost their fifth straight game, 116-108, Friday night to the Cavaliers (27-8). LeBron James dropped 36 points and Kyrie Irving dropped 32 with 16 coming in the fourth quarter.

There were some positives, no doubt.  The Nets made a game of it for the first 20 minutes of the half, and again at the end.  But LeBron James and Kyrie Irving showed who's boss and both times the Cavaliers turned it up a notch. Perhaps more importantly, there were some firsts for the team's two rookies (and other young'uns). Caris LeVert, playing some point, finished with a career high 19 points to go along with four rebounds and five assists, playing and looking like a point guard. Isaiah Whitehead had his first career double-double, with 10 points and 10 rebounds (and four assists).  Bojan Bogdanovic, after a miserable showing vs. Pacers, had a team-high 23, including five threes, tied for the most by any Net this season.

Kenny Atkinson took particular note of LeVert's performance, "Caris really stepped it up. Kept fighting back, we've got a competeive group of guys and proud of how they fought back."

The Cavs are the Cavs and after that nice showing early, went on a 16-4 run in the final four minutes of the half and led 50-39.

James already had 21 points, while Brooklyn’s offensive leader Brook Lopez was held to just four points. As a whole, they shot 3-of-15 from 3-point.

This didn’t bode well for the good guys in the second half. The Cavaliers went on a 15-4 run late in the third quarter and found their largest lead of the night at 20, while scoring 36 points in the quarter.

It was an 18-point lead entering the fourth, so the game was over… right?

Not so fast.

The Nets went on a 12-0 run in less than two minutes to start the fourth, cutting the 18-point deficit down to six. Caris LeVert had 15 points in the second half and helped spark the Nets on the run with his scoring, passing and defensive prowess. He’s improved every game.

… And suddenly we had ourselves a game again.

The Nets hung around for as long as they could and trailed by seven with 45 seconds left. Caris LeVert drove and dished to Brook Lopez, but the Cavs swarmed and stole the ball, eventually sealing the deal at the line.

Kyrie Irving was the difference maker in the fourth, despite the Nets outscoring Cleveland 40-30 in the final frame. Irving scored 16 of his 32 points in the fourth to go along with four assists and three rebounds.

Meanwhile, LeBron James finished with 36 points, nine rebounds and six assists.

The Nets shot 45 percent and turned the ball over 19 times, but contained Cleveland to just 43 percent shooting and 9-of-33 from deep.

As noted, LeVert finished with a career-high 19 points, while Bogdanovic led the team with 23 points. Trevor Booker did Trevor Booker things with 13 points and 12 rebounds. Isaiah Whitehead had 10 points, 10 rebounds and four assists.

It may have been a loss but slowly but surely, the young Nets are individually improving. The process is the progress (or is it the progress is the process?).

"I just tried to stay aggressive the whole game. That's what the coaches were telling me, what my teammates were telling me. Just stay aggressive on both ends of the floor," said Caris LeVert after the game.

"I felt like Caris (LeVert) really stepped it up there and made some really good plays," Coach Kenny Atkinson said. "We got some stops. I think we went down a bunch -- we were down 16 -- kept fighting back and we've got a competitive group of guys. I was proud of the way they fought in that fourth quarter."

Here's the LeVert highlights from Down-to-Buck

For more post-game audio, click HERE.

AUDITIONS!

The Brooklyn Nets are obviously in rebuild mode and with Jeremy Lin out due to a hamstring injury, Kenny Atkinson and the coaching staff have been mixing up the starting lineups of late. On Friday, Spencer Dinwiddie received his first start as a Net and the second of his career. Dinwiddie was called up from the D-League on December 8 and has averaged 5.4 points per game.

This pretty much sums it up:

Next up: Philadelphia 76ers, Sunday at 12 noon.