DENVER — LeBron James scored 39 points, including nine down the stretch, and dished out 10 assists as the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Denver Nuggets, 113-108, on Wednesday night (Thursday, Manila time) after squandering a 16-point lead.
James made one off-balanced shot after another in the waning minutes to turn back the Nuggets, who didn't take their first lead of the game until 8:35 remaining on a driving layup by Mason Plumlee. Jeff Green gave Cleveland the lead for good with a 3-pointer on a play set up by James after he tapped a loose ball out to him.
It was that kind of night for James. He made a deep 3-pointer with 1:11 remaining, thumping himself in the chest in exuberance as he skipped down the court.
James wound up two rebounds shy of a triple-double as the Cavs began a six-game trip in fine fashion.
Nikola Jokic had 36 points and 13 rebounds for the Nuggets, who lost for the second straight night. They dropped a costly game at Dallas on Tuesday as they try to cling to a playoff spot.
Larry Nance Jr. once again was in the starting lineup with big men Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson sidelined by with injuries. Nance scored 13 points and grabbed 13 boards.
The Nuggets committed 21 turnovers.
James was fueled in part by a 126-117 home loss to Denver last Saturday. He said in the morning shootaround: "You always want to try to give some giveback. That's the competitive nature."
The Paul Millsap and Jokic combination remains a work in progress, but they're starting to get on the same page. Millsap missed 44 games following surgery on his left wrist.
Coach Michael Malone's stressed to Jokic he needed be more assertive. He was, too, connecting on 12 of 14 shots.
"He's our best player and we need him to step up in these last 18 games," Malone said.
Cavaliers: Green was back on the floor after missing two games with lower back soreness. He finished with 10 points. ... F Rodney Hood added 15 points.
Nuggets: Denver native and longtime NBA standout Chauncey Billups was part of the ESPN broadcast team. ... G Gary Harris had 18 points. ... Denver had 10 3-pointers. The team hit 19 against the Cavs over the weekend.
FULL-COURT PRESS FOR FOOTBALL
Pittsburgh Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster is trying to court James to the football field. On his Twitter account, Smith-Schuster posted a picture of James in a No. 23 uniform for the Steelers.
"I'm fine with my sport. Pretty funny, though," James said. "I like tank tops and shorts. I've tried the shoulder pads and it was fun while it lasted. But I'm a tank top and shorts guy."
Love was astonished by all the positive feedback he received after opening up about his struggles with mental health issues. Love addressed the subject in a story for The Players' Tribune. He's already received more than 4,000 messages.
"So many people reaching out," said Love, who's sidelined by a broken hand.
Cavaliers: Game No. 2 on their trip is Friday in Los Angeles against the Clippers.
Nuggets: Host the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday.