CLEVELAND – Lose three games in a row in Washington and nobody bats an eye. Lose three in Cleveland and fans act like the sky is falling.
That was the unique viewpoint of former Wizard Antawn Jamison, who started for the first time with his new team as the Cavaliers ended their longest losing streak in two years Tuesday with a 105-95 win over the New Orleans Hornets.
Jamison came off the bench in his first two games with the Cavaliers, road losses to Charlotte and Orlando, but played 38 minutes in a starting role against the Hornets and put up 18 points on 7-of-14 shooting.
“We lost two games and it was like it was the end of the world,” the 12th-year pro said. “That’s something I haven’t been part of in a long time. It’s a good feeling.”
The Cavaliers (44-14) were far from great against the Hornets (30-27), who were playing without All-Star point guard Chris Paul (knee surgery), but they did enough to win.
The game was tied at 89 when struggling point guard Mo Williams, who is 3-of-18 from the field over the last two games, buried a 3-pointer with 4:15 to play.
Delonte West then made a great block against LSU rookie Marcus Thornton, who was sensational in putting up 37 points in 31 minutes. Things got even better for the Cavaliers when West hit a three at the other end, giving the Cavaliers a six-point lead.
New Orleans, which scored just six points over the final 4:37, never got closer than four the rest of the way.
“The last four minutes we decided to get a few stops,” said Cleveland’s LeBron James, who had 20 points, five boards and 13 assists. “That keyed our offense.”
Shaquille O’Neal, whose 9-of-13 shooting against the Hornets makes him 18-of-23 over his last two games, joined James with 20 points, while West (13 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists) and Anderson Varejao (14 points, 7 boards) were huge off the bench.
The Cavaliers used only eight players, as Daniel Gibson, Jawad Williams, Leon Powe and J.J. Hickson, who was suffering from gastroenteritis, got off the bench only to applaud their teammates.
Thornton, who set a franchise record with 23 points in New Orleans’ 40-point second period, was 15-of-22 from the field, while point guard Darren Collison, playing in place of Paul, torched Mo Williams all night en route to 22 points, four rebounds and 10 assists.
The Hornets shot an even 50 percent from the field, but the Cavaliers actually held them to 55 points over the first, third and fourth periods.
“We will continue to get better,” James said. “We’ve played some great defense throughout the course of this year. We’ve had some slippage. It’s something we understand.”
Playing against a zone much of the night, the Cavaliers also weren’t always sharp offensively. This was a game where O’Neal was absolutely dominating inside, yet Cleveland chucked up 25 3-pointers, some of them when its 7-foot-1, 325-pound center was perfectly positioned for an entry pass.
Even James was guilty, as he played a rather disinterested game in the first half, when he had five points and attempted just five shots, then came out and hoisted three 3-pointers in the opening moments of the third period.
As he almost always does, James picked it up when his team really needed him, scoring 15 points in the second half, including one of those “oh, no/good shot” heaves from 25 feet that put the Cavaliers up 103-95 with 59 seconds to go.
“We’re definitely not where we want to be right now,” Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. “Everybody feels it. We’ve got to fight through it.”
Jamison did show flashes, especially when he threw down a monster dunk over David West off a James pass, then hung on the rim one-handed before Varejao came over and caught him.
“We just have to develop our rhythm,” O’Neal said. “It’s taking time, but we’re doing OK. (Jamison) is playing well. Everybody’s playing well. We just have to man-up on defense.
“We still made a lot of mistakes out there. We’re kind of like a new team.”
Contact Rick Noland (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.