CLEVELAND (The Sports Xchange) – Denver Nuggets coach Mike Malone has seen this before. After coaching LeBron James for five years as an assistant during James’ first tour in Cleveland, Malone has plenty of experience watching the game’s most dominant player pick teams apart with his passing and shooting.
Malone was on the wrong end of it Saturday, when James and the Cleveland Cavaliers scored the first 18 points of the third quarter to break open what had been a close game.
James scored 27 points, passed for 12 assists and grabbed five rebounds and the Cavs handled the Denver Nuggets 125-109 for their fifth win in their last six games.
“It’s transition three. It’s layup. It’s dunk. The next you know it’s, oh my gosh, you’re down by 20 points,” Malone said. “They have so many weapons and LeBron is going to find the right guy. It’s tough when you have a three-headed monster, which they do.”
Kyrie Irving also scored 27 points, Kevin Love scored 16 and Tristan Thompson had 13 points and 13 rebounds for the Cavs.
Nuggets center Nikola Jokic had 27 points and 13 rebounds one night after he scored 40 points at Madison Square Garden in Denver’s 131-123 victory over New York.
Gary Harris scored 16 points and Jamal Murray had 16 off the bench for the Nuggets, who were playing for the second night of a back-to-back and their third game in four nights.
“Our guys getting down by 22, third game in four nights, could have folded,” Malone said. “It could have gone to 40 but we fought and cut it back to 12.”
The Nuggets missed their first seven shots of the second half and turned it over twice while the Cavs were draining 3-pointers. Irving made three 3s in about the first four minutes, James added a midrange jumper and Love made a three to extend the lead to 77-55 less than five minutes into the third quarter.
“That’s why they’re the defending champs,” the Nuggets’ Mike Miller said.
Miller also played for the Cavs with James. “Any team that he orchestrates is going to be really good and really competitive and get a lot of easy shots because he orchestrates it,” Miller said of James.
The somewhat easy win allowed Cavs coach Tyronn Lue to get James off the floor after 33 minutes — a relative victory given the heavy load he has carried in recent weeks.
James’ minutes have been up all season and they’ve only increased lately. He played more than 40 in Thursday’s loss at Oklahoma City.
“A lot of times if he wants to play, I can’t stop him from playing,” Lue said of James.
Kyle Korver scored 14 points off the bench and Derrick Williams contributed seven in 21 minutes for the Cavaliers in his first home game.
Williams, who signed a 10-day contract on Thursday, appears to have quickly become a rotation fixture — at least through the injuries. Iman Shumpert missed his third straight game with a sprained left ankle and Lue isn’t sure yet when he’ll return.
Lue is having fun experimenting with Williams’ athleticism for now. He used him to defend point guards in Thursday’s loss at Oklahoma City and even had him handling the ball a bit Saturday — although no one expects him to do that often.
Still, Williams provides a young, athletic wing who can play multiple positions — something the Cavaliers have struggled to find, particularly the young part.
“We hope that this is a long-term thing,” James said. “Obviously, we know that he’s on a 10-day contract, but we believe it’s going to be long term. He’s 25, he hasn’t even gotten to his potential, to his prime yet. So hopefully this group, this locker room, myself, my leadership, just want to see him grow every day, and it’s a good place for him.”
NOTES: Nuggets coach Mike Malone credits his time in Cleveland for why he’s a head coach today. “We had great success, the best record in the NBA twice. Went to the Finals,” Malone said. “Because of that opportunity and the success we had, because of a guy like LeBron, that allowed me to be seen in a different light amongst NBA GM’s and owners. It was a huge factor in me becoming a head coach in the NBA.” … G Kyrie Irving’s popular internet character “Uncle Drew” is going to the big screen. Variety reported that Irving will star in a film as the character he created for Pepsi Max commercials. Temple Hill Entertainment will produce it. … Cavs G Iman Shumpert missed his third straight game with a sprained ankle. Coach Tyronn Lue still isn’t sure when Shumpert will be cleared to play.