LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – LeBron James fired in a game-high 39 points Wednesday night, carrying the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 113-108 win over the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center in Denver.
Nine of his 39 came in the final 1:41, including a fadeaway jumper from the left corner with Wilson Chandler draped all over him with 9.5 seconds left.
That made the margin five and enabled Cleveland to start a six-game road trip by moving 1 ½ games ahead of Indiana in the Central Division.
James also added 10 assists and eight rebounds for the Cavaliers, while Rodney Hood contributed 15 points. Larry Nance, Jr. finished with 13 points and 13 rebounds, and Jeff Green came off the bench to chip in 10 points.
Nikola Jokic dazzled in defeat for Denver with 36 points, 13 rebounds and six assists. But it wasn’t enough to keep the Nuggets from losing for the second straight night and falling behind Oklahoma City and the Los Angeles Clippers for one of the last two playoff spots in the Western Conference.
Denver also got 18 points from Gary Harris, 12 apiece from Mason Plumlee and Paul Millsap, and 11 points from Jamel Murray.
Cleveland dominated the first quarter, racing out to a 38-23 lead against a Denver team playing a back-to-back. JR Smith started the period with a 3-pointer off one of five James assists. He was responsible for 22 points in the quarter, scoring nine and setting up 13 others with passes.
The Nuggets made some inroads into the lead in the second quarter, but still couldn’t stop the Cavaliers from scoring. Denver closed within 57-52 on a 3-point play by Murray with 2:37 left in the half, but James finished a 22-point half by draining a fadeaway with 5.0 seconds remaining for a 70-58 lead at intermission.
Jokic sparked a Denver comeback in the third quarter, scoring 17 points and grabbing six rebounds. By contrast, Cleveland managed only 19 points in the period. Jokic canned a 3-ball with 19.5 seconds left to cap his huge period and draw the Nuggets within 89-87.