Cavs use defense (yes, defense) to sting Hornets

LeBron James owns three championship rings, including one with the Cavaliers.

For the seventh straight time, yes, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers found a way.

Only this time, they had to do it with defense — not exactly their calling card in this still-very-early portion of the season.

Friday’s final score: Cavs 100, visiting Charlotte Hornets 99, and everyone sporting the all-black uniforms breathed a collective sigh of relief.

“They talked bad about our defense to start the season,” James told FOX Sports Ohio after the game. “We needed one stop.”

The Cavs got it, forcing the Hornets to shoot over the top in their final possession and brick their final chance to win the game.

Best of all, the effort was there all game, too. The Cavs scrambled, scratched, clawed — you name it. They clearly weren’t going to let the Hornets just shoot uncontested jumpers and waltz their way down the lane.

Oh, there were some goof-ups, some missed assignments. And the Hornets made some difficult shots. But when you stick with solid defense for the majority of a game, well, good things tend to happen.

The Cavs (12-7) have improved considerably in that area during this seven-game hot streak, bending their knees, shuffling their feet and starting to take things more seriously. Finally, they are make opposing jump shooters put the ball on the floor.

This game was a good example of that, as the Hornets missed their final eight shots and went 5-of-23 in the fourth quarter. They shot 38 percent for the game, the lowest the Cavs have allowed this season.

At the other end, of course, it’s mostly the same old story. Get the ball to James and let him operate.

The result was 27 points, 16 rebounds and 13 assists for the king of Cleveland basketball, the 57th triple-double of his career. As an aside, James’ teams are a remarkable 43-14 when that happens.

J.R. Smith added 16 points and Kyle Korver had 13. Also, not to be forgotten was the performance of Kevin Love, who finished with 11 points, 12 rebounds and probably lots of bruises after trying to contain Hornets center Dwight Howard most of the night.

Howard still compiled 20 points and 13 boards, but for the second time during this Cavs winning streak, left on the losing end.

Worse for the Hornets (8-10) was the fact they missed 11 free throws (16-of-27) in a game where every inch counted.

Overall, the Hornets out-rebounded the Cavs by a 55-45 count, and someone other than James and Love will need to start contributing in that area.

But for the Cavs, things have been getting better, and the wins have been coming. Considering the way things started, they have no reason to do anything but feel good about the here and now.

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