NEW YORK — Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were rusty and Kyle Korver is still not with the Cavaliers, so LeBron James needed to play a heavy role Friday.
As usual, he was up to the task.
James scored 36 points, carrying Cleveland while Irving and Love had slow starts in their return to the lineup in a 116-108 victory over the Brooklyn Nets.
Irving added 32 points and Love had 17 points and 13 rebounds, but both shot poorly early as the Nets kept it competitive for 1ﾽ quarters.
James helped the Cavs open a comfortable lead by halftime they enjoyed most of the rest of the way in the opener of a
six-game road trip.
“Ky was a little rusty coming off a couple of games out and obviously Kev as well,” James said. “So I was just trying to see if I could push the tempo, get us into a good flow, get some early buckets in the second quarter and I was able to push the lead to a double-digit lead by halftime. So it worked well for us.”
The Cavs were still working to finalize the trade with Atlanta to acquire Korver, which will add a premier perimeter shooter to their second unit.
“Every shooter that comes here we tell them LeBron’s statement: If a guy’s not in your numbers, then you’re open,” Irving said. “So I know he’ll pretty much enjoy that.”
Bojan Bogdanovic scored 23 points for the Nets, who have lost five straight.
“We just tried to compete the whole game. We dug ourselves a hole,” rookie Caris LeVert said after scoring a season-high 19 points.
Love missed a loss to Chicago on Wednesday and was limited in the previous game after suffering from food poisoning on New Year’s Day. Irving had sat out the last three with right hamstring tightness.
Irving started 1-for-8 and Love was 1-for-7 as the Nets, who trailed by 46 during their loss at Cleveland on Dec. 23, led with under five minutes remaining in the second quarter. But James had 10 points in the final 3:09 as Cleveland took a 50-39 lead.
Love then had 10 points in the Cavs’ 36-point third quarter and Irving heated up late as Cleveland broke it open again after the Nets trimmed a 24-point deficit to six in the fourth quarter.
“I thought they were rusty but we did a good job of working them back in and they were able to finish the game,” Lue said.
Irving finished 10 for 26 from the field with three 3-pointers. Love was 5-for-16.
Tristan Thompson was 0-for-9 from the free throw line in the first half before finally making a pair with 4:27 left in the third quarter after the Nets fouled him intentionally. He finished 4-for-13.
Cavaliers: Love said he has regained most of the 10 pounds he lost during his illness.
** After the acquisition of Korver is completed, James and Lue said the next priority for the Cavs is adding another point guard. With Matthew Dellavedova going to Milwaukee in the offseason, rookie Kay Felder is the only point guard on the roster other than Irving.
Nets: With Jeremy Lin still sidelined, Spencer Dinwiddie made his second career start, scoring seven points.
** F Rondae Hollis-Jefferson returned after missing Thursday’s loss in Indiana with right hip tendinitis and shot 1 for 6 for four points.
Though the trade with Atlanta wasn’t done yet, the Cavaliers did complete one with Portland. The Cavs re-acquired the 2018 first-round pick they had sent the Trail Blazers along with Anderson Varejao last February, in exchange for their 2017 first-rounder.
Nets coach Kenny Atkinson, who was an assistant in Atlanta, said the Cavs are making a great move to get Korver.
“I think we all make a mistake if we just think Kyle’s a shooter,” Atkinson said. “I think he’s a better all-around player than people think. I think he’s a better defender than people think. Better passer. He’s just got a really great IQ and he’s going to help them in so many ways.”
Cavs: Visit Phoenix on Sunday as the rest of their trip is in the West, capped by another NBA Finals rematch at Golden State on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Nets: Host Philadelphia on Sunday. The teams have the two lowest winning percentages in the NBA.