CLEVELAND (AP)—Back to basics. Back to winning. The Cleveland Cavaliers didn’t need long to remember what’s made them so good.
Locked into attack mode from the start, LeBron James scored 38 points—18 in the first quarter—and Mo Williams and Delonte West added 22 apiece as the NBA’s best home team avoided its first three-game losing streak by beating the San Antonio Spurs 101-81 on Sunday.
Embarrassed in a 29-point loss Friday in Orlando, a humbling defeat that came one day after a humiliating loss at lowly Washington, Cleveland played with purpose at both ends and improved to 37-1 at home.
“It was a wake-up call,” Williams said. “We didn’t get overexcited about the losses. It just kind of hit everybody the same way. That’s why we’re such a good team. We didn’t talk about it. We just put it behind us. We knew what we had to do and everybody came out and responded real well.”
Timing can be everything in the NBA, and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was certain the Cavaliers (62-15) would be a handful.
“We knew we were in trouble,” he said. “I want to find out who the scheduler was that made us play this game after they lost their last two.”
James, Williams and West shot a combined 33-of-51 for the Cavs, who are the 38th team in league history to win at least 62 games.
If they can win their final three home games, the Cavs will match the 1985-86 Boston Celtics (40-1) for the best home record in NBA history. Home-court advantage in the playoffs is huge for Cleveland, which is 0-2 at Boston and Orlando this season.
James has rarely experienced a loss like Friday’s, when the Cavs trailed by 41 in the third. He knew it was crucial to turn things around fast.
“Our last two games, we didn’t show what we’ve shown all year,” he said. “We didn’t play Cavaliers basketball and got embarrassed. To come back home and play like we did is a good sign.”
Tony Parker scored 24 but got no help from Manu Ginobili (four points) or Tim Duncan, who had just six in 27 minutes and didn’t score after the 2:56 mark of the first quarter. Duncan quickly left the arena without speaking to reporters. Drew Gooden had 15 for the Spurs, who are in a six-team scramble for playoff position in the wide-open West.
“We have to play better,” Parker said. “We have to stay positive. That’s the main key right now.”
Down by 13 at halftime, the Spurs came out strong and pulled within 62-57 midway through the third period. Gooden scored eight points in a three-minute stretch to pick up the slack for Duncan, who went 2-for-7 and was taken out of his game by Cavs center Zydrunas Ilgauskas.
Williams slowed the Spurs by hitting a 3-pointer and jumper, and Cleveland quickly opened it up to 10. James then got loose on a runout and went in for one of those jaw-dropping dunks only he can deliver to make it 71-60. Later, James dropped a 3-pointer as the lead swelled to 17.
The Spurs made one final push, closing within 84-75 on Parker’s basket.
That’s when you-know-who responded for Cleveland.
With the 24-second shot clock down to one tick, James made a 22-foot fadeaway and West followed with consecutive 3-pointers, double daggers that did in the Spurs. James added a 3-pointer of his own for good measure.
“LeBron did what you might assume he would do,” Popovich said.
It was Cleveland’s last game against a Western Conference team during the regular season. The Cavaliers went 26-4 against the West.
Once again, Cavs coach Mike Brown, who has had to juggle his lineup all season because of injuries, was forced to make a change. Starting forward Anderson Varejao sat out with what the team is calling a bruised wrist. It’s unclear when he got hurt.
Brown also altered his rotation, pairing West and Williams with the second unit while James rested.
The Cavs had their legs back after playing so lethargically against the Magic. Cleveland forced the action at both ends and put a defensive stranglehold on the Spurs, who shot just 39 percent from the field.
James seemed intent on ending Cleveland’s mini-slide by himself. He arrived at the arena more than three hours before tipoff, his routine before a big game.
He scored 14 straight points and finished the first quarter with 18—12 on 6-of-9 shooting from the floor and 6-of-6 from the line. Parker was just as good, shredding Daniel Gibson and West for 14 points in the quarter as the Spurs shot 56 percent.
It was when James sat to start the second that the Cavaliers took off.
Williams and West scored four points apiece as they opened the second quarter with a 12-2 spurt while James was on the bench resting. Cleveland’s defense held the Spurs without a field goal for the first 5:44, and when James checked back in, the Cavs led 40-29.
Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, who presented Metallica at Saturday night’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductions, sat in a baseline seat near Browns quarterback Brady Quinn. … The Cavs made a “medically necessary release” of guard Eric Snow, whose career was ended by a knee injury. The NBA approved the team’s medical insurance claim on Snow and will not have to pay his entire $7 million contract this season. … Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson, whose eye-popping stats are often cited in reference to James’ numbers, attended the game. “It’s an honor,” James said of the Big O’s appearance. “He’s an unbelievable player and an unbelievable person. His name will live on forever.”