LOS ANGELES, United States, Jan 3 – LeBron James shook off his flu symptoms to score 26 points Monday, leading a depleted Cleveland Cavaliers squad to a 90-82 home victory over the New Orleans Pelicans.
Channing Frye — who has also been battling the flu — added 14 points off the bench for the NBA champion Cavaliers, who rallied despite enduring one of their worst shooting nights of the season.
Kevin Love scored 12 points and pulled down 11 rebounds before departing late in the fourth quarter because of illness.
Love connected on just five of 19 shots from the floor and missed all seven of his three-point attempts, but Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue was grateful for his contribution.
“We didn’t think he was going to be able to play,” Lue said, noting that Love had lost 10 pounds (4.5 kg) in the past two days after contracting food poisoning.
“He came out there and gave us 24 strong minutes, which we needed. Just his presence on the floor was big for us and for him to gut it out the way he did was big for us.”
Cleveland’s starting backcourt of DeAndre Liggins and Jordan McRae combined to shoot just two of 10 in 34 minutes and neither played in the fourth quarter.
Overall the Cavaliers connected on just 37.8 percent of their shots from the floor.
James connected on nine of 21 attempts, pulled down seven rebounds and handed out six assists.
But he struggled to get in a groove until the fourth quarter on a night that saw Kyrie Irving out for the second straight game with what the team calls tightness in his right hamstring.
Lue offered no timetable for Irving’s return, after initially saying he didn’t think the trouble would cost Irving any time.
“Can’t have any excuses no matter what’s going on with the team,” James said. “Has to be next man up and when guys’ numbers are called they’ve got to be ready to go. As ugly as it was tonight, just got to find a way to get through it — and we did that.”
The Cavs were stone-cold from three-point range, with not a single starter connecting from long distance.
Frye made four three-pointers, James Jones made one and Richard Jefferson another.
Lue inserted Jones in the game with 2:32 left in the third when his team trailed 65-61.
He provided a needed spark with his three-pointer, following with a forced turnover and an assist to James at the other end.
Rookie Kay Felder produced 12 points, eight in the fourth quarter, a key contribution as Cleveland erased a 10-point third-quarter deficit to eke out the win.
Lue said he told Felder to be aggressive.
“He might have taken one or two questionable shots, but when you’ve got it going and you’re a scorer, just let him go. I don’t want to be a guy (that says), ‘Oh, that’s a bad shot,’ so now he’s thinking about it.”
– Missed opportunity –
Anthony Davis scored 20 points with 17 rebounds for the Pelicans. Rookie Buddy Hield added 20 points but New Orleans shot a season-worst 36.4 percent and saw their four-game winning streak end.
“We lost a little bit of our aggressiveness,” New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry said. “When you’re playing the NBA champs on the road and you have an opportunity like that, you’ve got to be able to execute and you’ve got to be able to seize the moment.
“We just kind of let it slip away.”