DENVER (AP) — LeBron James scored 34 points on the eve of his 31st birthday, Iman Shumpert added a season-high 16 and the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Denver Nuggets 93-87 on Tuesday night.
Kevin Love had eight points and 14 rebounds to help Cleveland finish off a four-game West Coast swing with a 2-2 mark. The Cavaliers rested Kyrie Irving on the second night of a back-to-back as he works his way back from a fractured left kneecap.
Reserve Will Barton had 29 for the injury-riddled Nuggets, who’ve now dropped six of seven. They were once again without Danilo Gallinari (sprained left ankle) and rookie Emmanuel Mudiay (sprained right ankle).
Trailing by 11 with 3:07 remaining, the Nuggets resorted to fouling Tristan Thompson, who’s a 56 percent free throw shooter. Thompson struggled at the line, hitting 1 of 4, but Denver couldn’t capitalize.
James put the finishing touches on the win with a windmill dunk late in the game. On his way back down the court, James smiled at retired NBA player and Denver native Chauncey Billups, who was sitting courtside.
It was that kind of night for James and the Cavs in their fourth game in five nights.
James nearly outscored Denver’s starters by himself — 35-34.
Here was a quirky state from the first half: The Cavaliers didn’t shoot a free throw. This from a team that’s averaging 22 free throws a game.
James had quite a juke in the second quarter, when his fake on Kostas Papanikolaou opened up the lane for an emphatic dunk. That helped the Cavs open up a 15-point lead in the first half.
Cavaliers: James had two assists, giving him 6,475 for his career. That’s one behind Tiny Archibald for 21st place in league history. … J.R. Smith had 11 points against his former team.
Nuggets: Coach Michael Malone said Gallinari is closer to a return than Mudiay. Gallinari may be ready Saturday at Golden State. … C Jusuf Nurkic (torn left patellar tendon) could soon make his season debut this weekend. “If he’s cleared to play on (Saturday), it’s a situation where he will play no more than 15 minutes,” Malone explained. … Nuggets G Mike Miller played for Cleveland last season.
HARD TO PICK
Having been an assistant at Golden State and Cleveland, Malone was asked who’s better between Stephen Curry and James.
Not surprisingly, he played it safe by picking both.
“I’m not going to say one is better than the other. I would love to coach either one of them,” Malone said. “Steph Curry is the best shooter in the world, and has kind of changed the way the NBA game is being played.
“LeBron is a completely different animal. Not the shooter, but his playmaking, his size, his athleticism, he’s been the best player in the NBA for close to a decade now.”
Cavaliers: Host Orlando on Saturday.
Nuggets: At Portland on Wednesday.
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