CLEVELAND (AP) — Gary Harris scored 32 points, Will Barton added 23 and the Denver Nuggets did most of their damage behind the 3-point arc in a 126-117 win over LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday night.
The Nuggets made 19 of 35 3-pointers, including three in the final 2:26, to hold off a second-half charge from the Cavs, who are struggling as they try to blend in four new players on the fly.
James finished with 25 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds – his 13th triple-double this season – but Cleveland’s lack of a dependable No. 2 scorer with Kevin Love out with a broken left hand continues to be a major problem.
More troublesome, though, is the Cavs’ defense or lack of it. Whenever Denver needed a big basket, the Nuggets got it by making the extra pass and exploiting holes in Cleveland’s defense.
J.R. Smith scored 19 points – all in the second half – in his return from a one-game suspension for throwing a bowl of soup on Cavs assistant coach Damon Jones. With Smith and James carrying the scoring load, the Cavs pulled within 115-114 with 2:40 left.
But the Nuggets came right back as Paul Millsap drilled a 3-pointer and Harris made two more from outside to put it away. Jamal Murray and Wilson Chandler added 16 points apiece for the Nuggets, who are 9-3 since Feb. 1.
Larry Nance Jr. gave the Cavs a needed lift in the second quarter with a vicious dunk.
Catching a pass on the baseline, Nance, who recently participated in the dunk contest during All-Star weekend, took one dribble, cocked his arm and posterized Mason Plumlee. The slam brought James and several other amazed Cavs onto the floor to celebrate.
The Nuggets, though, weren’t fazed.
Harris and Barton knocked down 3-pointers and Denver pushed its lead to 14 and was up 73-62 at halftime.