LeBron James got his first look at his four new teammates, and came away pleased with what he saw.
Cleveland (32-24) was rumored to be in the running to acquire Jason Kidd or Mike Bibby, but after failing to obtain either veteran point guard, seemed like it wouldn’t make a big move at Thursday’s trade deadline. Instead, general manager Danny Ferry pulled off a stunning three-team, 11-player deal that afternoon, trading six players and getting back forwards Ben Wallace, Joe Smith and Wally Szczerbiak and guard Delonte West.
With those players unavailable Friday night, James only had seven teammates surrounding him, yet Cleveland pulled off a 90-89 win over Washington thanks to 33 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists from the All-Star game MVP.
On Sunday, the four players made their Cavs debuts, and even though they’d barely practiced together, didn’t waste any time clicking with their new team. Wallace started at power forward and had a season high-tying 12 points and 10 rebounds, Szczerbiak and Smith scored in double figures and West, the starting point guard, had five points and six assists as Cleveland routed Memphis 109-89.
“The energy was unbelievable and I know those guys fed off the energy,” said James, who had 25 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds. “It was good to see those guys play well … and it was exciting to be out on the floor with them.”
James, the league’s leading scorer at 30.1 points per game, is averaging 30.8 points, 11.0 rebounds and 10.2 assists in his last five contests.
He’s averaging 29.8 points against the Bucks in his career, and had one of his four 50-point performances at Milwaukee on Dec. 10, 2005, scoring 52.
Wallace, Smith and West are expected to help the Cavaliers improve defensively, as the team has struggled to stop opponents this season after being one of the NBA’s best defensive clubs in 2006-07. Cleveland is allowing 98.1 points per game this season, up from 92.9 last season, and has allowed 100 points 25 times.
Last season, they gave up 100 just 18 times.
“I think we can be real good (defensively),” West said. “We are getting familiar and we are trying to get right back where we were last year.”
Cleveland’s defense should be further bolstered by the return of Anderson Varejao. The forward has missed 13 games with a sprained left ankle, but is likely to rejoin the team against Milwaukee.
The Bucks (21-35) have lost eight of 11 but find themselves very much alive in the Eastern Conference playoff race, as they’re just 3 1/2 games out of the eighth spot.
Milwaukee has won two of its last three games, including its past two at the Bradley Center, both over quality opponents. The Bucks beat the Pistons on Wednesday, then after being blown out 127-100 at Detroit on Friday, returned home Saturday and got a season-high 42-point effort from Michael Redd in a 115-109 victory over Denver.
“Major wins against quality teams, that’s encouraging,” said Redd, an Ohio native who’s averaging 21.7 points against the Cavaliers. “We have to come out every game, from here on out, with an attitude.”
The Bucks are 4-21 this season in games that Redd has failed to score at least 25 points.
Redd hasn’t been alone in providing Milwaukee with consistent offense lately. Point guard Mo Williams is averaging 23.7 points and 5.4 assists in his last seven games.
The Cavaliers and Bucks have split two meetings this season, both at Quicken Loans Arena. Prior to that, Cleveland had won seven straight in the series.