Cavaliers 109, Hornets 87
To say that Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James was fired up about his third NBA season, now that he has a supporting cast that seems capable of getting him to the playoffs, wouldn't truly put into perspective what the 20-year-old wunderkind accomplished Wednesday night. James was downright flammable.
He actually needed to perform a heat check during a ridiculous shooting display in the second quarter of the Cavaliers' 109-87 win over the New Orleans Hornets. At the urging of a sellout crowd of 20,562 at Quicken Loans Arena, James hit four three-pointers on four straight possessions over a span of 1 minute 44 seconds.
When the barrage was done, James mimicked lighting a flame beneath his hand, then tried to cool it off by blowing at it and waving it. "When you're on fire like that, you just got to keep taking them," said James, who finished with 31 points, connecting on 6 of 7 from beyond the three-point arc.
James also tried to reacquaint himself with the people who may have forgotten about him during a summer when some began to wonder if Miami's Dwyane Wade -- and not James -- truly was the best player from the draft class of 2003. Players selected after the No. 1 pick that year have already passed him in postseason experience -- Wade, Denver's Carmelo Anthony and yes, even Detroit's Darko Milicic, who has barely played but already owns a championship ring.
Of course, those players have been on better teams in their first two seasons, but James admitted that with the free agent signings of Larry Hughes, Zydrunas Ilguaskas, Donyell Marshall and Damon Jones, "It's no excuses this year."
For all of the attention Danny Ferry, the Cavaliers' new general manager, received this offseason for bringing in the complementary pieces to help the franchise advance to the playoffs for the first time since 1998, James let it be known that "The Chosen One" will lead the new-look Cavaliers to that summit. Before the game, James boldly predicted that the Cavaliers could get "50 wins. Everything that we didn't have, we have it now."
Marshall and Jones, who combined to score 30 points and hit five three-pointers, give the Cavaliers the outside shooting they have lacked in recent seasons. And Hughes, who bolted from a playoff team in Washington last season, finally gives James a versatile running buddy. Some quickly began to compare the duo to Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. "They are very talented. They're both, obviously, all-star caliber players," Coach Mike Brown said of James and Hughes.
James recruited Hughes during a game against the Wizards last April. "It was really just jokingly: 'Why don't you do this? Why don't you do that?' We really didn't think it would come to life," said Hughes, who signed a five-year, $60 million contract last summer after spending the previous three seasons in Washington.
When the Cavaliers played the Wizards in the preseason, James predicted that "you'll see a lot of Hughes-James combinations this year." James's words came to life within the first two minutes of the game. James stole the ball from Hornets rookie Chris Paul and passed it ahead to Hughes. Hughes dribbled up the court, slowed down, leapt into the air and guided a beautiful one-handed pass toward the sky. James rammed the ball home with one hand. "He made some passes that, if I could jump up a little bit, I could dunk it," Brown said of Hughes. "In my opinion, Larry is big-time. He is making it easy for everybody."
Hughes had just 10 points (on 2-of-9 shooting), 6 assists and 3 rebounds, but he admitted that he was still trying to find his comfort level after missing the past few weeks with a sprained middle finger on his shooting hand. He said he "definitely" made the right decision coming to Cleveland, where he has already established a sense of camaraderie with James, Jones, Alan Henderson, Drew Gooden and others, something that eluded him his previous seven seasons in the NBA. "I haven't had it where we have five, six, seven, eight guys, hanging out after hours," Hughes said. "We watch football, play video games, shoot the breeze, joke one another. It's just like hanging with your boys at home. It's different, but it'll keep us together."
While watching James's three-point onslaught, Hughes smiled in admiration. "That's my teammate. If he does well, we do well," said Hughes, adding that James was a major factor in his decision to leave Washington. "I knew coming here I definitely had a chance to win. I wasn't taking a step backward."