James had 28 points, seven assists and five rebounds in his first game after missing two with a sprained left ankle, but the Cavaliers lost to the Orlando Magic 105-102 on Tuesday night.
Orlando was led by Steve Francis’ 30 points and season high-tying 13 assists.
Cleveland coach Paul Silas expected that James would play, but it wasn’t until game time that the Cavaliers star made the decision official.
“I’m not going to play if I’m still thinking about (the ankle) and favoring it,” said James, 10-of-20 from the field. “I feel great.”
After a quiet first half, James scored 17 points and his short jumper with 44 seconds left tied it at 102.
“I’m really glad to have him back,” Silas said. “He makes the game easy for us.”
But James’ comeback wasn’t without flaws. He opened the game with an airball, missed his three 3-point tries and was 8-for-13 from the line— four misses coming in the fourth quarter.
“We gave ourselves every chance in the world to win, but we just couldn’t get over the hump,” James said.
Still, Cleveland appeared to have sent the game into overtime when Jeff McInnis rattled home a buzzer-beating 3-pointer. But after a brief huddle the officials waved off the shot, with replays clearly showing the ball in McInnis’ hands as the clock ran out.
“I was like, ‘I hope it doesn’t go,”’ said Orlando’s Grant Hill, who scored 21. “I was so tired. I need to rest up.”
Added Silas: “It was just another loss. We lost it, and move on—that’s what I told the guys.”
McInnis had 19 points. Drew Gooden, traded from Orlando in the offseason, had 15 points and 13 rebounds to lead three Cavaliers in double-doubles.
The Cavaliers have alternated losses and wins for the last 11 games. It’s the NBA’s longest streak since the New York Knicks did the same for 14 straight games in 1997-98.
Orlando has won three of four games, and seven of eight at home.
Francis’ free throws with 30.2 seconds remaining broke a tie, and Eric Snow missed an open 3-pointer off James’ pass. The Cavaliers missed six of seven shots in the final 2 1/2 minutes, with Snow misfiring on three.
Silas, asked whether he wants Snow shooting the ball in crunch time, replied, “Why not? That’s what he gets paid for.”
Francis rebounded, was fouled with 16.3 seconds to go and made a free throw for the game’s final points. He was 10-for-14 from the field and 10-for-12 from the line. The double-double was his 12th.
Over the last three games, Francis averaged 28.7 points while shooting 51 percent. His good play is coming after an awful 10-point, 1-for-12 performance against Washington on Friday, a night saved only by his game-winning shot in the closing seconds.
“He’s very explosive, he’s hard to contain and he still has tremendous upside in his game,” Magic coach Johnny Davis said. “There’s room for growth in his game. Tonight, even though he had more turnovers than you’d like (seven), I thought he was under control throughout the game.”
Orlando center Andrew DeClercq also celebrated a birthday, his 32nd. … Earlier Tuesday, the Cavaliers signed forward-center Jerome Moiso to a 10-day contract. To make room on the roster, forward-center Anderson Varejao was placed on the injured list with a sprained left ankle. … Orlando center Kelvin Cato returned from a three-game absence due to a sinus infection. … The game was briefly delayed coming out of a second-quarter timeout, after a Magic dancer’s necklace broke and scattered beads across the floor. … The 1988 Super Bowl MVP Doug Williams was among the 15,092 in attendance.