DALLAS — LeBron James had 24 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, helping the Cleveland Cavaliers avenge a lopsided loss to Dallas in the season opener by beating the Mavericks 88-81 on Thursday night.
Despite the presence of James and reigning MVP Dirk Nowitzki and this being a matchup of the last two NBA runners-up — enough sizzle to draw a national cable audience — the game was pretty brutal to watch.
Through three quarters, Cleveland shot only 36 percent, was 0-for-10 on 3-pointers and had missed 10 free throws — yet led by six points.
The Mavericks got within one point early in the quarter and made it 81-79 with 4:43 left and James already with five fouls. But a bunch of missed 3’s by Dallas followed, then James pretty much ended it with a thunderous dunk in the lane with 1:10 to go.
Nowitzki had 19 points and 20 rebounds, his most in a regular-season game since April 2003. Josh Howard had 19 points, too, but no other starter cracked double digits. The Mavs shot 36.5 percent, hurt by Jason Terry going
3-for-12 one night after going 0-for-10.
Dallas lost its second straight after winning five in a row. The Mavs fell to 6-6 against the Eastern Conference and have lost 11 games overall, after dropping only 15 last season.
Cleveland won its second straight, snapping out of a win-lose cycle its previous six games.
James, who had 10 points in the 92-74 home loss to Dallas on Oct. 31, was 9-of-21 from the field. Zydrunas Ilgauskas had 18 points and 11 rebounds and Larry Hughes had 17 points and nine rebounds.
Maybe the game was so painful to watch because it was so painful for the best players to play.
James went down hard four times in the first half, once for each of his baskets at the time of his last smack. Nowitzki played the whole game with tape around his shooting wrist and thumb, which helps explain his 1-for-8 first half. Then he finished the third quarter complaining of a groin problem.
Dallas led by seven points very early, then gave up a 14-4 run and didn’t recover. Cleveland led by as many as 13 points, with Dallas only getting within 73-72 early in the fourth quarter. James answered with a 3-pointer, the first of the game for the Cavaliers. Their only other was from Daniel Gibson out of a timeout after the Mavericks had gotten within two.
The game’s weird tone was set early, with Mavs coach Avery Johnson getting a technical foul 22 seconds into the game. All he did was wave his hand in disgust and turn away after asking why Dallas was whistled for fouling James when James wasn’t called for a foul on a similar play on the other end of the court. The call was so strange that Mavs owner Mark Cuban thought he might have been to blame, saying, “You’re going to call a tech on me?”
Dallas caught a bit of a break from it all: James missed two of the three foul shots.
Notes:@ During the second quarter, the phrase, “Hey Devin!” would have drawn a lot of attention. Devin Harris and Devean George were on the court for Dallas and Devin Brown for Cleveland. ... Weary from a loss in Utah the night before, Johnson was still in good humor before the game, noting that “after we went down 16-0, we won 93-80.” ... Gibson, a Houston native, had about 20 relatives at the game, including his parents. He might have also been thinking about his college team, the Texas Longhorns, playing in the Holiday Bowl. He said he follows them “every chance I get.” ... Speaking of college football, Cotton Bowl foes Arkansas and Missouri attended the game. ... This was Dallas’ 250th straight sellout, tops in the NBA.
Cavs 88, Mavs 81
CLEVELAND (88): James 9-21 5-10 24, Gooden 2-11 3-4 7, Ilgauskas 7-16 4-5 18, Pavlovic 1-5 0-0 2, Hughes 6-15 5-5 17, Varejao 1-3 0-2 2, Gibson 2-8 3-3 8, Newble 1-2 1-2 3, D.Brown 3-7 1-1 7. Totals 32-88 22-32 88.
DALLAS (81): Jo.Howard 9-18 0-2 19, Nowitzki 6-17 7-8 19, Dampier 0-3 1-2 1, Harris 2-8 5-6 9, Jones 3-4 1-1 9, Ju.Howard 0-0 0-0 0, Stackhouse 3-8 5-6 11, Terry 3-12 4-4 11, George 0-0 0-0 0, Bass 1-4 0-0 2, Diop 0-0 0-2 0. Totals 27-74 23-31 81.
Cleveland 23 24 21 20 — 88
Dallas 20 18 24 19 — 81
3-Point Goals—Cleveland 2-16 (James 1-4, Gibson 1-6, Pavlovic 0-1, Newble 0-1, Hughes 0-2, D.Brown 0-2), Dallas 4-20 (Jones 2-3, Jo.Howard 1-2, Terry 1-6, Nowitzki 0-2, Harris 0-3, Stackhouse 0-4). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Cleveland 68 (Ilgauskas 11), Dallas 53 (Nowitzki 20). Assists—Cleveland 15 (James 7), Dallas 14 (Harris 6). Total Fouls—Cleveland 20, Dallas 20. Technicals—Dallas Coach Johnson. A—20,462 (20,468).