Basketball: Lebron powers up for Cavaliers

LeBron James controlling the ball against Denver's Kostas Papanikolaou (right). The Cleveland star scored 34 points on the eve of his 31st birthday.
LeBron James controlling the ball against Denver's Kostas Papanikolaou (right). The Cleveland star scored 34 points on the eve of his 31st birthday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

James, who usually doesn't peak until the play-offs, pours in 34 points to mug Nuggets

DENVER • LeBron James has said that he does not hit his stride until after the National Basketball Association All-Star break, but he looked like he was in late-season form against the Denver Nuggets.

He scored 34 points a day before his 31st birthday, guard Iman Shumpert had a season-high 16 and the Cleveland Cavaliers beat Denver 93-87 on Tuesday.

The Cavaliers (21-9) were playing their fourth game in five nights on this Western Conference road trip. They lost a tough one to Golden State in an NBA Finals rematch on Christmas day before winning the last two to finish .500.

"This wasn't an easy trip," coach Dave Blatt said. "We had a long trip out to Golden State and a very emotional game that could have gone either way. We wanted and felt we needed to finish this trip strong."

Cleveland ended the trip by imposing their style on the Nuggets.

The Cavaliers, who rank 28th in pace of play and second in points allowed per game, used their deliberate offence and strong defence to stop Denver's running game.

Denver (12-20) finished with only 14 fast-break points and shot 41.6 per cent from the field. Guard Will Barton led the Nuggets with 29 points and centre Joffrey Lauvergne scored 14.

"Turnovers hurt us," Denver coach Michael Malone said. "When you have 18 turnovers for 26 points, that will make it very hard to win. I don't care who you are playing."

Getting James involved early did not help Denver's chances. He attempted just 10 shots in Monday's victory over Phoenix but he put up 13 in the first half when Cleveland took control behind his 15 points.

The Cavaliers led by as many as 15 points and went into the intermission ahead 53-42. "I wanted to try to get my heart rate up, get that first punch because I know this air is very thin and try to get a good rhythm," he said. "It definitely translated to the game."

It was an ominous start for the Nuggets, who led for just 16 seconds in the first quarter.

"When he sees that ball go in the basket a couple of times from the perimeter, the basket gets bigger and bigger," Malone said.

It also showed that, while James eases himself into the season, the forward can still dominate before the All-Star game. He admitted that he does not peak until the play-offs, but his performance against Denver looked like an April game.

"I'm not disrespecting what we do before the All-Star break, but for me, personally, I've always looked at it as another point for me to begin," he said.

James, who had 13 of Cleveland's 21 points in the fourth quarter, sealed the win by stripping Barton of the ball twice and scoring on fast-break dunks in the final 1min 56sec.

"I was just trying to put a stamp on the game and finish the game the right way," he said.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 31, 2015, with the headline 'LEBRON POWERS UP FOR CAVS'. Print Edition | Subscribe