DENVER (AP) — Now this is more along the lines of what LeBron James had in mind.
Cleveland moved the ball around to James’ satisfaction and held off the Denver Nuggets 110-101 on Friday night.
Sure, there is plenty of work still left to do, but this performance pleased James. Very much, even.
“We were in tune defensively from the beginning and … sharing the ball,” James said. “We were locked in. I was very pleased with that.”
The shooting? Maybe not so much.
James had 22 points and 11 assists on a poor shooting night for Cleveland’s Big Three. James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving were a combined 19 of 45.
But the Cavs showed off their depth, with seven players scoring in double figures in their only win on a three-game road trip.
“We stressed (ball movement),” James said. “We were like, ‘Let’s get the ball moving from side to side. Let’s get the best shot, not a good shot, the best shot.'”
For the most part, the Cavaliers did just that. They wound up with 25 assists two nights after the team tied a franchise record with just six in a loss at Utah.
“We’re going to get better at that as we begin to use our offense more properly and as we begin to recognize the benefit of not holding the ball,” coach David Blatt said.
Randy Foye scored 28 points for the Nuggets (1-4), who have dropped four in a row. Denver played without speedy point guard Ty Lawson after he was scratched due to a sore left ankle.
Nate Robinson started out strong in Lawson’s place, but didn’t play at all in the fourth quarter since his minutes were maxed out. Robinson isn’t supposed to play more than 20 minutes in his recovery from a torn ACL. He was on the floor for 25:49 against the Cavs and scored 14 points.
“That’s tough playing against a team like them and the guys that they have,” Robinson said. “It’s something that we have to learn from.”
Splitting time at point guard with Irving, James looked determined to get everyone involved, passing up shots in order distribute the ball. He will see more time at the point until Matthew Dellavedova returns from a sprained knee.
“The biggest mismatch we could get was when he (LeBron) was handling it and drawing the switch,” Blatt said. “The ball’s going to be in his hands a great deal, and it’ll certainly be in his hands at money time. That’s what he does.”
After leading by as many as 21 in the third quarter, the Cavs took their foot off the accelerator and the Nuggets pounced.
They trimmed the lead to six on a jumper by Wilson Chandler with 4:30 remaining. But then Dion Waiters had a steal and a dunk, followed by a jumper, to increase Cleveland’s advantage.
Irving finished with 12 points and six assists. He had 34 points and no assists in the loss to the Jazz.
Earlier this week, James wrote on his Twitter account for everyone to “relax.” The message was in response to talk about Cleveland’s slow start.
The Cavaliers (2-3) certainly played relaxed — at least early on. Although, it suddenly got tight when the game appeared to be turning into a rout.
At the morning shootaround, James dismissed reports that he and Irving recently got into a heated disagreement. James said the two are simply trying to get on the same page.
“We’re two dynamic players and it’s coming along well, I believe,” James said.
Things got a little rough with 4.4 seconds left in the first quarter, when Darrell Arthur smacked Waiters as he went in for a layup. Waiters stayed down for several minutes.
Arthur was called for a flagrant-2 foul and his night was finished.
“It was very scary,” James said. “He’ll feel it on the plane. He’ll feel it tomorrow for sure.”
Cavaliers: Asked if the team might be in the market for another backup point guard, Blatt said: “We’re not looking for anyone else at this moment, not that I know of anyway.” … Love had 19 points and eight rebounds.
Nuggets: J.J. Hickson served the last of a five-game suspension for violating the terms of the league’s anti-drug program. … Danilo Gallinari is finding his shooting touch. He was 3 for 6 from the field, making two 3-pointers, and finished with 10 points. Gallinari is returning to the court after missing nearly 18 months with a knee injury.
Cavaliers: Host New Orleans on Monday.
Nuggets: Visit Portland on Sunday.
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