CLEVELAND (AP) — LeBron James scored 12 points before resting in the second half and the Cleveland Cavaliers gave new coach David Blatt an exhibition win over his former team, beating Maccabi Tel Aviv 107-80 on Sunday night.
James has been monitoring an "iffy" back in training camp. He was kept out of a practice Friday and Blatt is being cautious with the four-time MVP. James emerged from the locker room at halftime with ice wraps on both knees and one on his back. The superstar spent the rest of the night watching his teammates wear down one of Europe’s best squads.
It was an emotional night for Blatt, who led Maccabi to several titles, including the Euroleague championship last year.
Kyrie Irving added 16 points and Kevin Love 11 rebounds for the Cavs.
Sylvan Landesberg scored 23 for Maccabi.
Understandably, Blatt said the matchup with Maccabi meant more to him than a routine exhibition.
"Personally this is a bit of an emotional game for me," said Blatt, Maccabi’s head coach for six seasons. "I’m playing against the team from which I came and the place from whence I came. Obviously there’s some mixed emotions there."
Blatt’s focus is on getting the Cavs ready for their Oct. 30 season opener against the New York Knicks. There’s work to be done.
Cleveland’s ball movement was fluid as players unselfishly made the extra pass hoping to get a better look at the basket. But there were some uncertain moments offensively as well as the Cavs get better acquainted with each other.
Defensively, there are some issues.
Maccabi’s players, running a system Blatt taught them, were able to get easy baskets in the first half. Landesberg, who played at Virginia, scored 12 in the opening half and Alex Tyus added 10.
The Cavs showed some of the new weaponry that will make them so difficult to defend.
On a baseline inbounds play late in the first half, James alertly passed the ball up top to Love, who knocked down a 3-pointer. Love, not known for his defense, then drew a charging foul as the Cavs took a 59-44 halftime lead.
With James on the bench — Shawn Marion started for him in the second half — the Cavs outscored Maccabi 28-16 in the third quarter. Dion Waiters had 12 in the period.
Blatt’s arrival in Cleveland was met with some skepticism as to whether he would be able to adjust to the NBA, its players and handle the pressure to win — especially with James being back.
But Jeremy Pargo, who played one season for the Cavs, said Cleveland is in good hands.
"He doesn’t look at you like coach to player or you are beneath him," Pargo said. "He looks at you as a man and he talks to you. That’s one of the greatest things about him. And from a coaching standpoint, he has ways of managing personalities and managing games. He’s unbelievable. He’ll be very successful in the situation he’s in."
Before tip-off, several dozen protesters, many of them waving Palestine flags, gathered outside Quicken Loans Arena to object to the Israeli team’s visit.
Holding signs that read: "Hold Israel Accountable" and "Boycott Israel," the protesters peacefully chanted behind barricades set up across the street from the downtown arena. Cleveland police, including several on mounted horseback, kept a watchful eye as fans made their way into the building.
James typically speaks to the media at his locker before games and his availability on Sunday was somewhat awkward.
Maccabi reporters were anxious to get the world’s top player to comment on a variety of topics, including the possibility of the Cavs someday making a visit to Israel.
"I have no idea," James said.
James did offer a flattering report about his early impressions about Blatt, but smiled when pressed on the subject of his coach.
"You guys know the new coach more than I do," he said. "I’ve only been with him for a couple weeks."