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NBA ROUNDUP : Cavaliers Move Closer to Playoff Contention

A battle is developing for the last two playoff positions in the Eastern Conference.

For most of the season, the contenders have been New York, Washington and Indiana.

But with the return of John Williams after 37 games on the disabled list, the Cleveland Cavaliers want to be included, too.

With Darnell Valentine scoring nine of their last 10 points, the Cavaliers came from behind in the closing minutes Friday night at Richfield, Ohio, to beat the Knicks, 90-85.

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It was Cleveland’s third victory in four games since Williams recovered from a foot injury. The 6-11 forward will be paid $5 million this season, most of any NBA player.

The Cavaliers fell apart when their best guard, Mark Price, was lost for the year, and Williams followed him out of the lineup.

The Cavaliers are bringing Williams along slowly, and he has contributed off the bench. He played 30 minutes, scoring 14 points and getting 10 rebounds.

But it took a collapse by the Knicks and clutch shooting by Valentine to pull it out.

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The Knicks had only one basket and were only five of nine from the free-throw line in the last four minutes.

Valentine’s jumper put Cleveland ahead, 81-79, and the Knicks never caught up again.

“Hot Rod (Williams) has given us a new confidence,” said rookie Danny Ferry, who had 19 points. “We were a team without stability. He has given it to us.”

The Knicks (21-29) have the seventh-best record in the conference in which eight qualify for postseason play. Indiana is 20-28, Washington 21-30 and Cleveland 18-32.

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Portland 117, Utah 105--The Trail Blazers put themselves in a good position for their showdown with the Lakers Sunday.

Terry Porter had 22 points for the Trail Blazers, who went in front early and stayed there. Portland extended its lead in the Pacific Division to 4 1/2 games over the Lakers, who lost to Boston.

Karl Malone kept trying to get the Jazz back in the game and finished with 38 points.

New Jersey 138, Denver 110--Derrick Coleman keeps saying he isn’t interested in points. But he said that he knew his 42 points at East Rutherford, N.J., was the best in the NBA this season by a rookie.

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“Lionel Simmons (Sacramento) had 39 in a game,” a writer said. “Thirty-eight,” Coleman said with a smile.

“Points don’t really mean anything,” he said. “We won. Winning is the bottom line.”

It was the second one-sided victory in a row for the Nets.

Milwaukee 106, Charlotte 103--The Bucks overcame a five-point deficit in the last 80 seconds of regulation at Charlotte and won in overtime.

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Fred Roberts made a 15-foot shot with three seconds left to send it into overtime.

Danny Schayes scored four points in overtime to put Milwaukee in front and the Bucks held on for the victory.

Dallas 121, Washington 96--Rolando Blackman scored 18 of his 28 points in the first half at Dallas to help the Mavericks build a big lead.

Bernard King of the Bullets made only four of 14 shots and scored 14 points.

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