CLEVELAND (AP) — They may no longer have one of the league’s highest-profile superstars, but now the Cleveland Cavaliers are playing as a team.
Back in Ohio following a perfect three-game road trip, the balanced Cavs look to complete a home-and-home sweep of the slumping New Jersey Nets on Wednesday.
For seven years, LeBron James was the face of the franchise and filled up the stat sheet, but failed to bring a championship to Cleveland. James was the team’s leading scorer in 68 of the 76 games he played in his last season with the Cavs before being dealt to Miami in July.
The Cavs (4-3) now sport a different look. They’ve had five different scoring leaders through the season’s first seven games. J.J. Hickson had 18 points to lead five players in double figures in Tuesday’s 93-91 victory at New Jersey.
“I think the bench guys did a great job of setting the tone, but the most important thing was that we won the game,” said Antawn Jamison, who had 15 points in almost 28 minutes after missing the previous three games with a sore left knee. “We have a great group of guys who go out and play. I’m glad to be a part of it. I don’t know if this is my role for good. It’s early on and tough to say. But if it works, we’ll stick with it.”
Three of Cleveland’s players in double figures were reserves as the Cavs totaled 52 bench points. They rank near the top of the league with 42.6 points per game from reserves, after placing in the bottom half of the NBA in bench scoring in every season James played by Lake Erie.
“I said all along that our bench could be one of our strong points and our guard play could be one of our strong points,” coach Byron Scott said. “That was the case (Tuesday).”
The Cavs, who have won three straight following a three-game skid, are displaying a penchant for winning close contests. All four victories have come by eight or fewer points.
Keeping the score close was likely small consolation to New Jersey (2-5), which fell to Cleveland for the ninth straight time. The Nets continue to crash back to earth after winning their first two games, dropping five in a row while more closely resembling last season’s 12-70 club.
Travis Outlaw had a season-high 27 points Tuesday to lead New Jersey, including a 3-pointer at the buzzer to make the final margin closer.
“We were fighting,” Outlaw said. “That’s the most important thing. We have to continue to fight. We have to continue to keep our head up and keep pushing.”
Devin Harris added 18 points and Brook Lopez had 16 and eight rebounds for the Nets, who are averaging 86.2 points and shooting 40.5 percent during their overall losing streak.
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