PHOENIX: The Phoenix Suns spoiled LeBron James’ return to NBA action on Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila), holding off “King” James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 107-100.
James, sidelined for a fortnight with back and knee injuries, scored 33 points in just under 37 minutes on the floor.
He delivered 12 points in the fourth quarter as the Cavaliers erased a 19-point deficit and even took the lead four times in the final eight minutes, but in the end the Suns prevailed.
Markieff Morris scored a career-high 35 points to lead the Suns.
P.J. Tucker had 10 points for Phoenix and made two key plays that led to four straight free throws down the stretch to help them hang on for the win.
The Cavaliers had hoped James’ return would make for a quick reversal of fortunes. They lost seven of the eight games he missed during the longest stretch on the sidelines of his career.
James admitted before the game that he might have taken more time off if his team had been winning, and said it was hard to endure watching the Cavs lose as he was idle.
“It’s the most difficult thing I’ve ever been through,” James said. “I hated the fact we were playing some pretty decent ball when I went out and we’ve just dropped a lot of games when I was out.”
The Cavaliers also had key reserve Shawn Marion back after missing two games with a strained hip.
James said the team, which got off to a slow start as it adjusted to the return of the superstar to his first NBA club after four seasons in Miami, just needed to stay focused on the details that had them improving before his injury absence.
“We’ve just got to continue to work the habits and things we’ve built over the season,” James said. “We’ve played some really good basketball, we’ve played some not good basketball.
“Obviously of late we haven’t played really good basketball so hopefully we get back to it.”
James made 11-of-18 shots from the field, including three of his eight three-point attempts. He made eight of 13 free throws, pulled down seven rebounds and handed out five assists.
J.R. Smith made his biggest contribution since Cleveland acquired him last week from the New York Knicks, draining eight three-pointers in a 29-point effort.
But Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving scored just nine points each.
With the defeat, the Cavaliers fell below .500 (19-20) for the first time since November 24. They’ll try to turn things around in Los Angeles, where they face the Lakers on Thursday and Clippers on Friday. AFP