James recovered from his injury to score 29 points, leading seven Cleveland players in double figures and helping the Cavaliers beat the Grizzlies 118-96 Wednesday night for their season-high seventh straight victory.
James, who sat out Cleveland’s 124-100 victory over Sacramento on Tuesday night with back spasms, connected on 11 of 17 shots from the field. James hit his first five shots of the third quarter, helping Cleveland build the lead to 33. The Cavs’ starters did not return in the final period.
“I was just in a zone,” James said. “I felt like I couldn’t miss, and I dropped a lot of jumpers and bumped the lead up. That gave us an opportunity to sit on the bench for the fourth.”
Memphis, with the league’s worst record, lost its second straight and eighth in the past nine.
Zydrunas Ilgauskas scored 18 points for Cleveland, while Larry Hughes had 13 points and six assists. Donyell Marshall had 12, Sasha Pavlovic scored 11, and Drew Gooden and Anderson Varejao had 10 apiece.
“Right now, we can’t relax because we have to look at the big picture,” Ilgauskas said. “But right now, we are satisfied with the way we played these last few games.”
The Grizzlies can’t be happy with their play. Weak defense and a lack of enthusiasm continue to haunt the team.
“If something goes wrong for us, it multiplies,” Memphis interim coach Tony Barone said. “We don’t seem to be able to play through adversity.”
Mike Miller, the Grizzlies’ second-leading scorer, scored only seven points on 3-for-10 shooting.
The Grizzlies were flat from the start, and that was before James went on his shooting run in the third. For the quarter, James, whose status was a game-time decision because of the back, was 6-for-8 from the field, including 3-for-5 outside the arc. James outscored the Grizzlies 15-12 in the period.
“We were floundering in the first half,” Barone said. “LeBron took some long-range bad shots that went in, and that hurt us. I thought he toyed with us all night, and we didn’t respond to that well at all.”
Gay added: “When (James) is on fire, there’s not much anybody can do.”
Cleveland led 62-51 at the half behind 14 points from James. Four Cavaliers already were in double figures by then.
James showed no early effects of sitting out Tuesday’s game. The league’s sixth-leading scorer played the entire first quarter, scoring 10 points. With support from Hughes and Marshall, the Cavaliers held an early 13-point lead.
Memphis shot 49 percent from the field in the first half, but that wasn’t enough to overcome its nine turnovers that led to 12 Cleveland points, or the Cavaliers’ 58 percent shooting.
The Grizzlies’ performance, plus the shortage of emotion, was a representation of why Memphis is 16-50, has not won back-to-back games all season and is auditioning some of its young talent for the future.
“I’ve been in their situation where the season is over, and you still have a lot of games to play,” Ilgauskas said. “It’s hard to concentrate. I know it is tough, but we don’t feel sorry for anybody.”
Starting with an 18-foot jumper with 5:31 left in the third quarter, James scored 15 points, including back-to-back 3-pointers, giving the Cavaliers a 95-62 lead.
“We just did a nice job doing what we do,” Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said of the third period. “We were getting stops, guys came open, and guys stepped up. LeBron was fun to watch in the third, but it was a complete team effort.
“When you’re getting stops, guys can come open and get easy shots.”
The Cavaliers are 3-0 without James this season, and 9-2 in his career. “I told (his teammates) if they want me to sit out for the rest of the regular season, I would,” James said before the game. “Then they kind of straighten their faces out.” …The Grizzlies entered the game having won five of the past six games against Cleveland played in Memphis. … Memphis has five straight home losses, the worst stretch of the season. … Gooden’s 10 points and 12 rebounds marked his 20th double-double of the season. …The 22-point loss by Memphis was the second-worst defeat of the season, topped only by a 45-point setback at Chicago on Jan. 13.