George Karl was fired yesterday as coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Gene Littles, who had been his assistant, will coach the team the rest of the season.

Cleveland has lost three straight games and five of the last six, but still leads the Chicago Bulls by 1 1/2 games for the eighth and last playoff spot in the conference.

Under Karl, 34, the Cavaliers were 25-42 this season. Last season, his first in Cleveland, his team started 2-19, then played 34-27 ball to make the playoffs. Littles, 42, is in his fourth year in Cleveland.

The team's general manager, Harry Weltman, said Karl was told last Monday that his contract would not be renewed after this season. Last Thursday, Karl interviewed for the coaching job at the University of Pittsburgh, which, Weltman said, finished Karl in Cleveland. Celtics 118, 76ers 101

Guards Dennis Johnson and Danny Ainge helped the Celtics to a 20-7 rally in the third quarter that won the game and brought the Celtics within one of their record for consecutive victories in Boston.

In the first half, Johnson had four points and Ainge none. But each scored six points during the decisive six-minute stretch that turned a 59-57 edge into a 79-64 lead. Lakers 116, Rockets 111

In Inglewood, Calif., Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's 43 points and Magic Johnson's third triple-double this season provided Los Angeles' eighth straight victory.

Johnson had 19 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds as the Lakers reduced to five their magic number to clinch the top spot in the Western Conference playoffs.

The Rockets' Ralph Sampson scored 27 points, and Akeem Olajuwon 21.

It was close until Abdul-Jabbar's layup with 4:13 left. He was fouled on the play, made the shot, plus another foul shot on a technical foul against Sampson. That made it 104-98, Lakers. Nuggets 119, Kings 113

Alex English's game-high 36 points provided the victory in Denver.

The Nuggets led all the way, by as much as 13 points, but Sacramento got within 90-89 until English scored seven straight points. Trail Blazers 119, Pistons 109

Kiki Vandeweghe's 35 points enabled the Trail Blazers to win their 14th straight in Portland, Ore.

Teammate Clyde Drexler had 23 points and substitute Jim Paxson 22.

Portland scored seven straight points for a 54-46 halftime lead and was never headed.

Rick Mahorn of the Pistons and Kenny Carr scuffled after Mahorn intentionally fouled Carr on a layup. SuperSonics 129, Spurs 115

In Seattle, Xavier McDaniel scored 25 points and Jack Sikma 22 to lead the victory over San Antonio.

McDaniel, a potential rookie of the year, had 10 points in the first quarter when the SuperSonics went ahead for good. In his last 12 games, he has averaged 20.3 points and has shot 52 percent. Warriors 130, Suns 112

Purvis Short's 36 points gave him 75 in Golden State's last two games. He had 20 points in the first half yesterday in Oakland, but the Warriors needed an 18-6 rally midway through the second half to put Phoenix away.