CLEVELAND (AP) — A season that looked like a lost cause two weeks ago has suddenly turned around for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Kyrie Irving scored 22 points and the Cavaliers won their sixth straight game, 101-93 over the Orlando Magic on Wednesday night.
The winning streak has put Cleveland within three games of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Considering where they were on Feb. 5 when they hit rock bottom with an embarrassing loss to an injury-decimated Los Angeles Lakers team that finished the game with five players, the Cavaliers have made a big leap forward in a short period of time.
Irving, chosen MVP of the NBA All-Star game Sunday, paced a balanced offense that extended the Cavaliers' longest winning streak since they won eight in a row in March 2010. That was LeBron James' final season in Cleveland.
"It's been nothing specific," Irving said of the resurgence. "We're coming together as a team. We're enjoying the game out there, a lot more smiles and a higher level of competitiveness. We're having fun, but we're also competing."
General manager Chris Grant was fired the day after the loss to the Lakers. It appears the Cavaliers learned some lessons from the low point of the season. Cleveland won its last four games before the All-Star break and routed Philadelphia on Tuesday.
"We know what it feels like to be on both sides, whether down or up," Irving said.
Cleveland played without guard Dion Waiters (hyperextended left knee) and center Anderson Varejao (sore back). Luol Deng scored 17 points, while Tyler Zeller and Tristan Thompson each added 16 for the Cavaliers, whose 21-point lead was cut to two late in the game.
Arron Afflalo led Orlando with 23 points. The Magic have lost 14 consecutive road games and are an NBA-worst 3-25 away from home.
Orlando coach Jacque Vaughn is at a loss to explain his team's road woes.
"I have no secret formula," he said. "They can see how the second half transpired — that's the secret. Whether it's back-to-back games or you're playing four in five nights, playing like that with mental toughness is the only way to get it done."
The Cavaliers built an 18-point lead in the first quarter and were ahead by double figures until Orlando rallied in the third. The Magic outscored the Cavs 32-17 in the period and cut it to 72-70 in the early seconds of the fourth.
Cleveland went up 89-81 but Orlando scored six straight points to cut the margin to two again. Zeller's three-point play, two free throws by Irving and Deng's 3-pointer pushed the lead to 97-89 with 35 seconds remaining.