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01/09/2013 10:35 PM EST
Irving scores 33 to lead Cavs past Hawks 99-83
CLEVELAND 99, ATLANTA 83

By STEVE HERRICK
Associated Press

CLEVELAND (AP) -- Kyrie Irving gave the Cleveland Cavaliers some
much-needed good news Wednesday night.



Irving scored 18 of his 33 points in the third quarter and the
injury-riddled Cavaliers beat the Atlanta Hawks 99-83 -
Cleveland's largest margin of victory this season.



Irving's big night came at a perfect time for his team, which
hasn't had much to feel good about lately. The Cavaliers lost
five of six overall and six straight at home going into the
game, but that seemed minor compared to the news that came
earlier in the day.



Center Anderson Varejao will have surgery Thursday to repair a
muscle that split near his right knee. He will miss six to eight
weeks. Varejao was having an All-Star caliber season, averaging
14.1 points and an NBA-leading 14.4 rebounds. Irving admitted
the Cavaliers, who had only 10 available players, were thinking
about their sidelined teammate throughout the night.



"Andy's production, his effort, his whole morale around the team
will be missed," Irving said. "We all have to step up."



"The biggest thing we talked about before the game was having
fun," coach Byron Scott said. "Let's see what happens. Play
hard, play together and play smart. We did all three of those
things."



Josh Smith scored 17 points to lead Atlanta, which has lost a
season-worst four straight. Hawks coach Larry Drew, who called
his team "soft" following Tuesday night's loss to Minnesota,
watched them get completely outplayed after tying the game early
in the third. His mood wasn't any better following the latest
lackluster effort.



"I am a little concerned right now," Drew said. "I've got to do
something to get this team on stride again - and I will."



"The energy and the effort isn't all there right now," said
center Al Horford. "It's about energy, man, and we need to
defend better."



Alonzo Gee scored 15 points for Cleveland, while Tristan
Thompson added 11 points and 14 rebounds. Rookie Tyler Zeller,
who moved into the starting lineup after Varejao was injured
Dec. 18, scored 11 points and had a career-high 12 rebounds.



Jeff Teague added 15 points for Atlanta and Horford scored 14.



Atlanta's frustration was best summed up when Smith shot an
airball from the free throw line midway through the fourth
quarter with the Hawks trailing 88-76. With the crowd jeering,
he also missed the second shot and the Hawks slowly went up the
court to play defense. Atlanta tied a franchise low by
attempting five free throws. The Hawks made two, a league low
for the season.



C.J. Miles (back spasms), Daniel Gibson (concussion) and Luke
Walton (personal matter) also missed the game for Cleveland.



Hawks point guard Devin Harris played for the first time since
Dec. 18 after missing 11 games because of a sore left foot.
Guards Anthony Morrow (strained right hip) and DeShawn Stevenson
(sore knee) didn't play.



Cleveland, which hit seven 3-pointers in the opening quarter,
led for most of the first half. Atlanta tied the game at 51
early in the third quarter, but the Cavaliers surged ahead
thanks mostly to Irving, who dazzled the Hawks with jump shots
and drives to the basket that resulted in free throws. He also
hit two 3-pointers, including one from a couple of feet behind
the arc with 1.9 seconds remaining to give Cleveland a 77-63
lead.



Drew, who criticized his team's effort following a 108-103 loss
to the Timberwolves, didn't back down from the words before
playing the Cavaliers, saying he emphasized his point in a
breakfast meeting with his players Wednesday.



"Things aren't going too good for us right now," Smith said.
"You're going to have struggles like this throughout the season.
We've got to get back to playing beautiful basketball."



The Hawks had won eight of nine over the Cavaliers. Atlanta has
lost four in a row for the first time since closing the 2010-11
season on a six-game slide.



Varejao's injury was originally diagnosed as a bruised right
knee, but he still wasn't ready to practice. He will have
surgery on Thursday at The Cleveland Clinic. The team said Dr.
Richard Steadman in Vail, Colo., provided a second opinion on
the injury.



NOTES: The Hawks are 7-3 in the second leg of back-to-back
games. ... Harris, who went into the game averaging 7.7 points,
was scoreless in 13 minutes. ... Atlanta hosts Utah on Friday
night. ... Cleveland begins a five-game road trip in Denver on
Friday night. ... Gibson has missed the last six games. He was
injured against the Hawks after a collision with Morrow.

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