CLEVELAND (AP) — After a blunt assessment of his play at the team’s shoot around, LeBron James responded with a dominant performance.
James scored 29 points, including 16 in the first quarter, and the Cleveland Cavaliers broke a four-game losing streak with a 106-74 win over the Orlando Magic on Monday night.
The Cavaliers were coming off an 0-4 week in which James’ numbers were down, causing him to say Monday morning, ”I stink.”
The four-time MVP took care of that problem by controlling the game early and sparking his team to a much-needed comfortable win.
”I’m my biggest critic,” James said. ”I wasn’t happy with my play the last week. No one puts any more pressure on me than myself. You go out and you just don’t talk about it, you show it too.”
Cavaliers coach David Blatt wasn’t surprised that James followed his self-criticism with a strong game.
”His influence is widespread,” Blatt said. ”The things that he does and the way he plays the game and the impact he has on those around him is consequential in every respect. He can impact in every way. He did that and obviously everyone followed.”
After averaging 18.5 points and shooting 41 percent from the field in the losing streak, James was 9 for 17 from the field Monday and tied a season-high with 11 assists while not playing the fourth quarter.
James hit four shots from the field, including a 3-pointer, made all seven of his free throws and had four assists in the opening period. He finished the first half with 22 points, including a fade away jumper from the top of the key to end the second quarter.
”He’s a great player and that’s what great players do; they lead their team and make plays at both ends of the floor,” Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said.
Cleveland’s problems began with home losses to Denver and defending champion San Antonio. The Cavaliers looked lackluster in losing at Washington on Friday, but their problems deepened the next night against Toronto at home when they led by 18 points in the first quarter and lost 110-93.
James called the Cavaliers ”fragile” following the game and Blatt agreed with that point of view when asked about it before Monday’s game.
”Those were seven pretty tough days for us,” Blatt said.
”A win always makes things feel better, but we still have a lot of work to do,” James said.
Anderson Varejao scored 14 points while Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving each added 12.
Victor Oladipo led the Magic with 22 points while Nikola Vucevic added 18 points and 13 rebounds.
The Cavaliers have won eight consecutive games against Orlando. The 74 points were the fewest the Magic have scored and a season-low allowed by the Cavaliers.
Cleveland went ahead for good four minutes into the game, built a 21-point lead in the second quarter and led 56-38 at halftime.
Orlando cut the lead to 12 early in the third, but Varejao hit four mid-range jumpers and a hook shot, and James found Shawn Marion with a baseball pass for a dunk to help Cleveland re-establish control.
James hauled in a long pass from Love and hammered down a dunk to bring the crowd to its feet and move the lead to 72-48.
The Magic, who had won two straight road games, played without forward Tobias Harris, their second-leading scorer and rebounder. He missed his second straight game with a strained right calf.
Vaughn said Harris will be re-evaluated Tuesday. ”It puts us in a bind with the available wings we have, but we’ll continue to piece it together and fight like heck,” Vaughn said. Harris averages 18.8 points and 8.4 rebounds.
Magic: G Elfrid Payton leads all rookies in assists (5.0) and is second in steals (1.33). … Orlando only has four players that it drafted on its 15-man roster: F’s Aaron Gordon and Andrew Nicholson, C Kyle O’Quinn and Oladipo. … Orlando hasn’t won three straight on the road since January of 2012.
Cavaliers: James’ biggest quarter of the season is 17 against New Orleans. … Blatt is considering some lineup changes, but wants to have his team go through a practice before making a decision. The team is scheduled to practice Tuesday. … Varejao entered the game leading the Eastern Conference with a .574 field goal percentage.
Magic: Returns home Wednesday to play Golden State.
Cavaliers: Continue a five-game homestand Wednesday against Washington.