CLEVELAND (AP) – The Cleveland Cavaliers played a listless first half Friday night.
LeBron James decided to do something about it.
James scored a season-high 31 points, 18 in the third quarter, and the Cavaliers recorded their fifth straight victory, 108-102 over the winless Philadelphia 76ers.
Veteran teammate James Jones deserves an assist for Cleveland’s decisive spurt. Trailing 50-49 at halftime, Jones had some heated words in the locker room for his teammates.
“We weren’t playing inspired basketball and JJ got on all of us,” James said. “I respect JJ probably more than anybody in this area because of how long we’ve been together. It’s my job to respond.”
James recorded his 9,000th career field goal in the second quarter, but gave the Cavaliers a scare when he was kneed in the left quad while driving to the basket early in the fourth.
James was down on the court for a couple of moments and limped to the bench after being checked by a trainer. He remained in the game and was pulled with 2:31 remaining and Cleveland (5-1) leading 104-90.
James hopes to play Sunday when Indiana visits Quicken Loans Arena. The four-time MVP said his leg was sore, adding, “Probably a lot worse tomorrow. Probably be around-the clock-treatment trying to get ready for Sunday. Hopefully it doesn’t stop me from playing.”
James reached his latest milestone with a dunk late in the second quarter to become the 20th player in NBA history – and fifth active – to record 9,000 field goals.
Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor scored 18 points each for Philadelphia (0-5).
James took over in the third quarter when he hit three 3-pointers as the Cavaliers turned the one-point deficit into a 16-point lead. James came into the game shooting 2 of 18 from beyond the arc.
The Sixers, one of three winless teams in the league, were duly impressed.
“When they get going, it’s like a freight train going downhill,” Noel said.
“Look at his stats, he had 13 assists,” coach Brett Brown said of James. “Those are the things that really kill you. LeBron will pick you apart whatever you give him.”
Richard Jefferson scored 17 points while Mo Williams added 16 for Cleveland, which hasn’t lost since the season opener against Chicago.
Cleveland’s fast start has come despite a series of injuries. James received an anti-inflammatory injection in his back in training camp, but has played in every game in the regular season.
Kyrie Irving (fractured kneecap) and Iman Shumpert (wrist surgery) have yet to play and J.R. Smith (bruised knee and strained quadriceps) has missed the last two games.
Cavaliers power forward Tristan Thompson left the game late in the first quarter after sustaining a cut on his right eyelid. He received stitches and returned a minute before halftime.
Smith hasn’t played since leaving Monday’s game in Philadelphia. Coach David Blatt said he took part in on-court drills Thursday and Friday, and is hopeful he can return Sunday. Smith is officially listed as doubtful. … Jefferson started at shooting guard Wednesday before Jared Cunningham got the start Friday.
PART OF GROWING UP
Brown doesn’t think his team has backed down from the Cavaliers. “We’ve got the youngest team in NBA history, but no one was walking on eggshells going against LeBron,” he said. “Honestly, I think naivety is a good thing in a lot of cases when you first get to this level.”
Sixers: Philadelphia scored seven points in the final 32 seconds of the first quarter, including a dunk and a 3-pointer by T.J. McConnell. … JaKarr Sampson, who attended Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary H.S., best known as the alma mater of James, scored five points.
Cavaliers: Cunningham, playing shooting guard, made his first career start. He was scoreless in 21 minutes. Cunningham is with his fifth team in four years, having played previously with Dallas, the Los Angeles Clippers, Atlanta and Sacramento. …. The Cavaliers rallied from a 15-point deficit in the first half to defeat the Sixers 107-100 on Monday in Philadelphia.
Sixers: Host Orlando on Saturday.
Cavaliers: Host Indiana on Sunday
(Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)