Point guard James leads Cavs over Bulls
CLEVELAND — LeBron James played point guard Tuesday night and was his usual dominant self.
However, the Cleveland Cavaliers could count themselves winners because of a bench that saved them.
James scored 34 points and piled up 13 assists in Cleveland’s 119-112 win over the Chicago Bulls. The Cavs snapped a five-game losing streak to Chicago.
The Bulls jumped out to a 14-point lead in the first quarter and nailed 17 3-pointers overall. The Cavs didn’t lead until there was 8:50 left in the third quarter, snapping a string of 75 game minutes without a lead.
The Cavs’ bench outscored the Bulls’ reserves, 46-34.
“Thank God for our bench tonight, which was great,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. “But we’ve got to be better. Seventeen threes again where guys are just looking at us, staring us down and raising for shots. We talked about making the guys put the ball on the floor, and we didn’t learn our lesson. I mean, 17 threes again. You’re not going to win many games like that.”
Cleveland (3-1) was blown out by Orlando on Saturday night in a game where the Cavs never led, trailed by as many as 37, while allowing 17 3-pointers.
Justin Holiday paced Chicago (0-3) with 25 points. Rookie Lauri Markkanen scored 17 of his 19 points in the first half and finished with five 3-pointers. Markkanen is the first rookie in league history to make 10 treys in his first three games.
“I feel like we came out fast and moved the ball the way we wanted to,” Holiday said. “Obviously, Lauri couldn’t miss, and when we play like that, it’s tough for teams to guard us.”
James often handles the ball for the Cavs and is their assists leader on the season, but he played the point because Derrick Rose (sprained left ankle) was out and Lue sought a bigger lineup. Lue said he planned to stick with James, J.R. Smith, Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, and Jae Crowder — the Cavs’ third starting lineup on the young season — for at least the next two games.
James shot 13-for-20 from the field and drained four 3-pointers.
“When he’s hitting threes, you have to give up something with him,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We did a decent job contesting his shots. A lot of that has to do with you’re playing against the best player on the planet.”
Reserve Jeff Green scored 16 for the Cavs, and Dwyane Wade came off the bench to score 11. It was Wade’s 12th game off the bench in 15 seasons, covering 919 games. He asked to move to the second unit after struggling in three games as a starter with Cleveland.
Cleveland backup guard Kyle Korver scored 11. Love added 20 points and 12 rebounds for Cleveland.
Kay Felder scored 13 points for the Bulls, all in the first half. Felder was traded along with Richard Jefferson by the Cavs to Atlanta on Oct. 14. Both players were waived by the Hawks, and Felder was claimed by the Bulls.
“I thought he gave us a really good lift, he can really score the ball and that’s who he is,” Hoiberg said. “When he makes shots like he did tonight, he’s really dangerous.”
The Bulls shot 17 of 33 (51.5 percent) from 3-point range. The Cavs answered with 16 3-pointers on 38 attempts (42.1 percent).
Lue was furious with his players at halftime and let them know it.
“Defensively we’ve got to get better,” Lue said. “We play teams like this that move around a lot, playing hard, younger guys, we’ve got to do a better job of respecting these guys. Until we do, we’re going to get off to slow starts and be in dog fights every single night. We can’t continue to start games the way we’ve been starting them.”
NOTES: Cavs coach Tyronn Lue made huge changes to his starting lineup, inserting not only G J.R. Smith for G Dwyane Wade, but returning C Tristan Thompson to the first five and sliding Kevin Love back to power forward. The Smith-Wade swap was announced Monday, but Smith missed the shootaround Tuesday with a sore back and his status was somewhat in question. Also on Monday, Lue said G Jose Calderon would start at point guard for the injured Derrick Rose (sprained left ankle), but the coach changed his mind Tuesday and went with a bigger lineup that included Thompson guarding 7-footer Robin Lopez. ... F/G LeBron James tied Zydrunas Ilgauskas (771 games) for the most games in Cavs’ history. ... Chicago G Kris Dunn (dislocated finger) worked out Monday, and he may return Thursday against the Hawks, Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said.