CLEVELAND — 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 today 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 in a row. 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 <0x2014> 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.
THUNDER 106, TIMBERWOLVES 84
In Oklahoma City, Kevin Durant scored 26 points, Russell Westbrook added 23 and Oklahoma City overpowered outmanned Minnesota.
After losing its last game on a buzzer-beater against a last-place Washington team saddled by injuries to its three top players, Oklahoma City left nothing to chance.
BUCKS 104, BULLS 96
In Chicago, Brandon Jennings scored 20 of his 35 points in the third quarter and Milwaukee beat the Bulls for its second consecutive victory under interim coach Jim Boylan.
CELTICS 87, SUNS 79
In Boston, Jeff Green scored 14 points, rookie Jared Sullinger added 12 points and a career-best 16 rebounds, and the Celtics recovered from a dreadful third quarter with a big rally to start the fourth and held off Phoenix.
SPURS 108, LAKERS 105
In San Antonio, Tony Parker scored 24 points and the Spurs handed Los Angeles its fifth consecutive loss.
Kobe Bryant had 27 points, Metta World Peace added 23 and Earl Clark 22 for Los Angeles.
JAZZ 112, BOBCATS 102
In Charlotte, N.C., Al Jefferson had 26 points and eight rebounds, and Utah beat the Bobcats for its fourth win in five games.
Jefferson was 11 of 15 from the field and the Bobcats simply had no answer for the 6-foot-10 center in the paint.
RAPTORS 90, 76ERS 72
In Toronto, Amir Johnson had 19 points and 12 rebounds, Jose Calderon added 14 points and 11 assists, and the Raptors beat Philadelphia, handing the slumping 76ers their fifth consecutive loss.
HORNETS 88, ROCKETS 79
In New Orleans, Roger Mason scored 15 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter to rally the Hornets to a victory over Houston.
Greivis Vasquez and Jason Smith each scored 17 points for the Hornets, who have won three in a row for the first time this season. Robin Lopez added 14 points for New Orleans.