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Suns Strokes: Morris, Phoenix top Cavs in LeBron’s return

Now that’s how you begin the longest homestand in franchise history.

Markieff Morris and the Phoenix Suns spoiled the return of LeBron James, handing the Cleveland Cavaliers a sixth straight defeat, 107-100, in front of 16,819 at US Airways Center.

Morris scored a career-high and Suns season-high 35 points, coming up with big basket after big basket, and at times putting the team on his back.

The Suns, who snapped a two-game losing streak, led by as many as 19 points before James and J.R. Smith rallied the Cavaliers in the fourth quarter.

James had 33 points in his first game after missing the past seven with a sore left knee and strained back. Smith added 29.

The Suns, though, ended the game on an 11-3 run, turning a 97-96 deficit with 3:53 left into a seven-point victory. Two Eric Bledsoe free throws gave the Suns the lead for good at 98-97 with 3:31 remaining, and four free throws by P.J. Tucker in the final 26.7 seconds iced the win. It was the Suns’ fourth straight at home, extending a season-long streak and starting their franchise-record eight-game homestand at 1-0.

All five Suns starters scored in double figures.

Morris refused to speak to the media after the game.

THE GOOD

Morris scored 10 of his 12 first-quarter points during a 14-5 Suns run midway through the quarter. He punctuated the offensive burst with back-to-back threes for a 24-16 lead. The Suns made three of their five threes in the quarter, shooting 65 percent overall.

Goran Dragic scored 10 second-quarter points — one more than he scored in 33 minutes at Memphis. He scored twice on fast-break layups, had another layup after Tucker found him open underneath the basket, and he hit 19-foot and 18-foot jumpers. Dragic has scored in double digits in 21 of his last 22 games.

Morris heated up again in the third quarter, scoring eight points. Moments after his 18-foot jumper, Morris and the Suns took their largest lead of the game, 80-61, as Brandan Wright hit one of two free throws following a clear path foul on Tristan Thompson.

Morris might have saved his best for the fourth quarter. During one three-minute stretch, he scored nine straight Suns points, using a variety of moves to hit a driving layup, turnaround jumper and two outside shots, all of which almost single-handedly kept the Suns in the game.

THE BAD

James’ longest in-season layoff of his career appeared to have little affect. He had six points, two assists, one rebound and one steal in the game’s first six minutes, helping the Cavaliers overcome an early five-point deficit and take their one and only lead in the half, 11-10, at the 6:18 mark of the opening period.

James and Smith combined for 30 points on 10-of-19 shooting in the first half. James scored 16, Smith had 14 and the two accounted for nine of the Cavaliers’ final 11 second-quarter points — with the last bucket coming on a James putback dunk with 1.6 seconds remaining.

The Cavaliers closed the third quarter scoring 10 unanswered points, part of a larger 18-5 run the final 2:44 of the quarter. Smith hit four threes, three coming on successive possessions and then a fourth with two seconds to play after he stole an inbounds pass. He finished 8-of-14 from 3 in the game.

The Cavaliers took the lead on four different occassions in the fourth quarter, with James either scoring or assisting on three of the four made baskets. He scored 12 points in the quarter and finished with his 11th 30-point performance in 22 career games against the Suns.

STAT OF THE GAME

35 + 15: The number of points scored and made field goals by Morris, who became just the third player in the NBA this season to make at least 15 field goals and shoot at least 70 percent from the field, joining Anthony Davis (Dec. 21 at Oklahoma City) and James (Dec. 12 at New Orleans).

HE SAID IT

“Markieff was awesome, especially in the fourth quarter,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said. “We had that stretch there where we had a lot of bad things go on. They could’ve easily quit and stuck their heads down. We just pounded it into Markieff and he came through, play after play. He was huge.”

NOTED

– The Suns hit the halfway point of the season with a 23-18 record, just one game worse than last season (24-17) after 41 games.

– The Suns shot 52.6 percent, improving to 32-1 in two seasons under Hornacek when shooting at least 50 percent from the field.

– Alex Len (13 points, 10 rebounds) recorded his second straight double-double and his third straight double-digit rebounding game for the first time in his career.

– The NFL’s NFC West was well represented at the game, with the Arizona Cardinals’ Larry Fitzgerald and the San Francisco 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick courtside. And, no, the two were not sitting together.

UP NEXT

The second game of the homestand comes on Friday, Jan. 16, when the Minnesota Timberwolves make the first of two visits to the Valley.

Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. with pregame coverage beginning 30 minutes earlier on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.

The Suns have won two straight in the series, including earlier this season. In fact, it was just last week. Dragic scored 25, Gerald Green added 21 — including 15 in the fourth quarter — as the Suns erased a seven-point second-half deficit to win 113-111 at Target Center in Minneapolis.