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Leonard shines as Spurs dismantle the ailing Cavs

AP, SAN ANTONIO, Texas

Kawhi Leonard of the San Antonio Spurs goes to the basket against the Cleveland Cavaliers in their NBA game in San Antonio, Texas, on Monday.

Photo: EPA

The Cavaliers acknowledged having heavy legs, yet there is something far weightier on the minds of the defending NBA champions.

Cleveland are in the midst of one of their worst stretches this season and there is little time to fix it.

Kawhi Leonard scored 25 points as the San Antonio Spurs dismantled the ailing Cavs 103-74 on Monday in a much-anticipated showdown that turned into a major letdown for Cleveland.

“The way we’ve been struggling, [the Spurs are] the last team that you want to play,” said LeBron James, who was fine after taking an elbow to the neck. “A well-oiled machine like this, they exploit everything that you’re not doing well at that point in time of the season and right now we’re not playing good basketball.”

James, who finished with 17 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in 29 minutes, said he would play in Chicago tomorrow.

Cleveland (47-26) dropped their second in a row, set a season low for points and fell half a game behind the Boston Celtics (48-26) for the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

The Cavaliers have nine games remaining, all against teams in the East, including a visit to Boston on April 5.

James said the standings “always matter,” but playing more consistently is far more important and he refused to blame injuries or an arduous schedule for the team’s troubles.

“It matters more that we’re playing better basketball than where we’re at,” James said. “If that results in us having the No. 1 seed, the No. 2 seed, three or whatever the hell it is, we need to play better basketball. That’s what it comes down to.”

What Cleveland are seeking, the Spurs have already found.

San Antonio (57-16) are two games behind Golden State (59-14) for the league’s best record entering a home game against the Warriors today.

The Spurs have won five straight and eight of 10 after sweeping the season series with the Cavaliers.

“It was a big game, but in the end it’s just one game and one win,” San Antonio guard Tony Parker said. “We’re trying to be consistent. We’re trying to play the same way every game. It was definitely surprising. Coming off a loss, I thought they would play with a lot more energy, but it can happen. It’s a long season. It’s just one game and I’m sure they’re going to bounce back and use this game as motivation.”

San Antonio led by as many as 33 to the delight of the sold-out crowd and the Spurs’ bench outscored the Cavaliers’ reserves 49-24.

Cleveland, already without the injured Iman Shumpert, received more bad news on Monday morning when it was announced that Kyle Korver would miss at least two more games with a sore foot.

“You lose Korver and Shumpert off your bench and things tend to change,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. “With those two guys out, we tried some different things and it didn’t work. It was not on the bench. It was on me.”

Cleveland opted to play their stars rather than rest them, but the trio of James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love sat out the fourth quarter.

Lue said he has mulled resting his stars over the final nine games, although James is not in favor.

“Coach is going to have his logic of things, but we need to play,” James said.

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