That stingy defense will be put to the test when their road trip continues Friday as James and the Central Division-leading Cavaliers face the Golden State Warriors, who will have high-scoring guard Monta Ellis available for the first time this season.
After opening its four-game trip with a 105-88 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday, Cleveland (32-8) defeated Portland 104-98 on Wednesday. The Cavaliers, who have not lost back-to-back games all season, are in a close race with Boston and Orlando for the best record in the Eastern Conference.
“One thing I’m very excited about is the way we bounce back after a loss,” James said Wednesday after finishing with 34 points and a season-high 14 assists.
“Every guy on this team knows we’re fighting for a championship. We gotta go out there every night and approach it that way. We can’t afford to take a night off. We want to get better every night because we’re fighting for something really big down the road.”
Cleveland’s defense returned to form on Wednesday, as it limited the Trail Blazers to 40.7 percent shooting after allowing an opponent season-high 52.4 percent to the Lakers.
The Cavaliers have the league’s top scoring defense (89.6 points per game), but slowing down Golden State (13-30) won’t be easy, especially with Ellis on the court.
The Warriors decided after Thursday’s practice to welcome back Ellis, who has missed the entire season while recovering from a sprained ankle sustained in an accident on a motorized scooter last summer.
Ellis has been back at practice for two weeks with the Warriors, who suspended him for 30 games without pay after the incident. The high-scoring guard got a six-year, $66 million contract extension about one month before crashing his scooter.
“We decided as a group after practice that Friday’s game would be a good situation for me,” Ellis said in a statement released by the team. “I have worked extremely hard during my rehabilitation, with the help of the Warriors’ staff, and feel that I’m ready to go. It’s just nice to get back to the game that I love and to play for the fans who have been so good to me. I’m really pumped. It’s a great day.”
Ellis averaged career bests of 20.2 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.4 assists last season.
Without him, the Warriors boast one of the top offenses in the league (107.4 ppg), and are averaging 119.3 points in their last seven home games. Cleveland is 2-4 this season when its opponents score 100 points or more, and all four defeats came on the road.
The Cavs, though, held Golden State to 39.8 percent from the field in a 112-97 home win on Nov. 28. They’ve won four of the last five meetings, including the last two at Oracle Arena.
Golden State, which has won three of the first five games on its season-high seven-game homestand, lost to Oklahoma City 122-121 on Wednesday. Jamal Crawford’s bank shot had given the Warriors the lead with 1.6 seconds left, but Thunder forward Jeff Green hit a turnaround jumper as time expired.
The Warriors may have to take the court again without starting center Andris Biedrins, who woke up Tuesday with a sprained left wrist.
Biedrins, averaging 13.7 points and 12.0 rebounds, was the only Golden State starter to have played in every game this season before being held out Wednesday. The NBA’s third-leading rebounder is day-to-day.
Stephen Jackson had another solid outing on Wednesday, finishing with 29 points and seven assists. In his last three games, Jackson is averaging 26.3 points - 6.6 better than his season average - after missing his previous four games with a strained right hamstring.
Jackson struggled against Cleveland’s defense in the November meeting, as he was held to 11 points on 2-for-11 shooting.