LeBron James hardly missed a step in his return to the Cleveland Cavaliers’ lineup after missing seven games with knee and back injuries.
Unfortunately for Cleveland, an emerging Phoenix Suns forward was ready to go toe-to-toe Tuesday night with the four-time MVP.
James was expected to see limited playing time in his return, but he ended up on the court for 37 minutes, tallying 33 points, seven rebounds and five assists in that time.
Markieff Morris stepped up at US Airways Center and netted a career-high 35 points, including nine straight for the Suns during one stretch in the fourth quarter as the game suddenly went back and forth.
The Cavaliers, who received little offense outside of James and J.R. Smith, weren’t able to pull off a road victory, as they fell by a final of 107-100.
The Suns snapped a two-game losing streak and improved to 23-18, remaining in the eighth spot in the Western Conference.
Here’s a look at Tuesday’s contest, by the numbers:
The Suns showed much more balance than the Cavs did on offense, as all five Phoenix starters reached double-figures, led by Morris’ 35 and Goran Dragic’s 18. Cleveland, meanwhile, only had two starters reach double-digits (James with 33 and Smith with 29) and one off the bench (Tristan Thompson with 10).
Cleveland stars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were quiet on offense Tuesday, as the pair combined to shoot just 7-for-25 (28 percent) from the field and each finished with nine points. Love was a game-worst minus-20 on the stat sheet, but he did pull down nine rebounds despite playing just 27 minutes, including none in the fourth quarter.
Suns center Alex Len notched his fifth double-double of the season, including his second in as many games, as he posted 13 points and 10 rebounds. The second-year pro also had three assists, a steal and a block in the win. Phoenix improved to 3-2 this season when the 7-foot-1 center records a double-double.
If you’re a Cleveland or a LeBron fan who’s hoping to see a championship this season, NBA on ESPN’s Twitter account dropped this sobering statistic even before the Cavs’ loss:
Cavs are currently 19-19, no team has ever won an NBA championship that's been at or below .500, 38 games into a season (via @EliasSports).
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) January 14, 2015
Cleveland fell to 19-20 Tuesday and has now lost six straight and nine of its last 10.
The Suns are no strangers to shooting 30 or more threes in a game, but they only launched 20 Tuesday night, making seven of them (35 percent). The Cavaliers, meanwhile, had the honor of topping the 30 threshold, as they went 13-for-35 (37.1 percent) from downtown. Overall, Phoenix shot a sizzling 52.6 percent from the field, while Cleveland made just 43.9 percent of its attempts.
The final score looked close, but that’s only because the Suns allowed it to be that way. They had the lead for a stretch of 34 minutes and 47 seconds of game time before James assisted Thompson for a dunk with 7:31 left in the fourth quarter. Phoenix had squandered a 19-point advantage at that point, and the lead changed hands eight times in the fourth before the Suns emerged ahead.
Not only was Morris’ 35 points a career high, but they were the most by any Suns player this season. The fourth-year forward added seven rebounds in the game and made 15 of his first 18 attempts from the field before missing his last three. He was also a game-high plus-22 in the box score.
Tuesday was one of those rare nights when Phoenix won the points-in-the-paint battle, as the team finished with a 44-38 advantage. The Suns, however, were beaten pretty handily on the boards: 42-34. Shawn Marion and Love led the Cavaliers in rebounds with 11 and nine, respectively.
The end of the game marked the halfway point for the Suns, who are on pace for 46 wins, which would be two behind their total last season. They were 24-17 at this point in 2013-14.