By Jason Lloyd / Akron Beacon Journal
DENVER—LeBron James delivered himself an early birthday present on Tuesday: 34 for 31.
James broke out of a four-game shooting funk and the Cavaliers salvaged a split of their West Coast trip with a 93-87 victory over the Denver Nuggets.
James, who turns 31 on Wednesday and had a party planned in Denver to celebrate after the game, scored 34 points and grabbed six rebounds. He capped his stellar night with two runaway dunks, one reverse and one tomahawk, in the final two minutes.
Iman Shumpert scored 16 points off the bench and the Cavs won the final two games of this trip after dropping the first two. It took until the final minute to hold off the Phoenix Suns on Monday, but the Cavs were in total control against the Nuggets despite playing without Kyrie Irving.
They led by 11 at the half and maintained a 72-62 lead entering the fourth. The lead hovered around double figures most of the fourth, while holding the Nuggets to 42-percent shooting. They were under 40-percent shooting most of the night.
James shot just 38 percent in the four games prior to Tuesday, including 13 percent (two-of-16) on three-pointers. He shot 13-of-24 against the Nuggets, which have been hit hard by injuries and have now dropped six of their past seven.
“He raises the talent level of every single player and I think that’s the toughest thing when you go into a game,” Nuggets Coach Mike Malone said of James. Malone was an assistant during James’s first stint in Cleveland. “LeBron is going to get his, but his ability to make [Matthew] Dellavedova, Tristan Thompson, Kevin Love, JR, whoever it may be, because he gets them the ball right on time, on target, where they’re the most effective, now all they have to do is make the shot. It’s a joy to play with a guy like that.”
Love scored eight points and grabbed 14 rebounds after hurting his thumb in the win over the Suns. Love insisted after the game the thumb was fine, but he shot four-of-16 against the Nuggets and went scoreless in the second half.
Will Barton scored 29 off the bench to lead the Nuggets.
With Irving sitting for what he hopes is the final time on the second night of a back-to-back, James immediately carried the scoring load. He took 13 shots in the first half after shooting just 10 times against the Suns. Coach David Blatt thought the Cavs didn’t do a good job of getting James involved against the Suns, so he did it himself against the Nuggets.
The Cavs close the calendar year at 21-9, tops in the East. They are off until Saturday (January 2) when they host the Orlando Magic.
In other National Basketball Association results, Atlanta beat Houston, 121-115; Oklahoma City downed Milwaukee Bucks, 131-123; New York prevailed over Detroit, 108-96; and Memphis edged Miami in overtime, 99-90.
Image credits: AP