The Spurs got off to a sluggish start in their return from the All-Star break on Wednesday, trailing 24-15 after the first quarter before rallying for an 86-82 win over the Toronto Raptors.
“I hate to say it, but it looked like there was a lot of rust on everybody,” two-time MVP Tim Duncan said. “It seemed like there was a lid on the rim.”
Duncan had 26 points and tied a season high with 21 rebounds for the Spurs, who have won six in a row since losing seven of 11. Their win streak includes a 5-0 mark during a stretch of seven straight road games that began before the break.
San Antonio ends that stretch Sunday with a tough Midwest Division matchup at first-place Minnesota.
The defending NBA champion Spurs, who held the Raptors to 38 percent shooting (30-for-79) on Wednesday, are leading the league with 83.6 points allowed per game.
Now they’ll try to put the clamps on the 19-year-old James, who often has held his own against the Western Conference’s elite teams in his rookie season despite Cleveland being just 5-15 against the West.
James had one of the best rookie debuts in NBA history with 25 points, nine assists, six rebounds and four steals in a 106-92 loss to Sacramento on Oct. 29. He scored 32 points in a 111-106 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Feb. 4.
He scored only 16 points in Wednesday’s 114-98 loss to the Dallas Mavericks, but played just three minutes in the fourth quarter with the game out of reach. James had nine assists and shot 6-for-12 from the field in his first game since getting held to nine points on 2-of-13 shooting in last Wednesday’s 105-85 loss to New Jersey.
The Cavs posted their highest point total in five games in the matchup with Dallas, but could not contain the Mavericks in the middle two quarters, when they outscored Cleveland 68-48.
“All you can do is hope they miss,” James said. “And they didn’t.”
Carlos Boozer scored all 24 of his points in the first three quarters and pulled down 14 rebounds as the Cavs lost for the fifth time in six games.
Cleveland entered as the NBA’s top rebounding team, but was outrebounded 53-40—18-9 on the offensive end.
The Cavs fell to 1-3 on a five-game homestand.
STANDINGS (through Feb. 18): Spurs - 2nd place, 2 1/2 GB, Midwest Division. Cavaliers - 6th place, 19 GB, Central Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Spurs - Duncan, 23.1 ppg and 13 rpg; Parker, 5.4 apg. Cavaliers - James, 20.4 ppg and 5.8 apg; Boozer, 11.1 rpg.
2002-03 SEASON SERIES: Spurs, 2-0.
LAST MEETING: Nov. 18, 2002; Spurs, 104-78. At San Antonio, Duncan bounced back against the Cavs with 25 points after scoring a season-low six at Cleveland two nights earlier.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Spurs - 18-11 on the road; Cavaliers - 14-13 at home.