Leonard back, but Spurs fall
LOS ANGELES (AFP) – Kawhi Leonard made his long-awaited return from injury but could not stop San Antonio from an upset defeat in Dallas on Tuesday as LeBron James led the Cleveland Cavaliers to a ninth straight win.
Leonard, who missed the first 27 games of the season due to a thigh muscle injury, made an impressive cameo in his 15 minutes on court, scoring 13 points and pulling down six rebounds.
But when Leonard exited as expected early in the third quarter soon after helping the Spurs into a 55-50 lead, the Mavericks came back into the contest to run out 95-89 winners at the American Airlines Center.
The defeat was a jolt for San Antonio, who fell to 19-9 for the season. The Mavs improved to 8-20, led by 17 points from Harrison Barnes.
In Cleveland meanwhile, the Cavaliers rained down a bombardment of three-pointers on the Atlanta Hawks to secure a 123-114 win.
Cleveland bagged a season-high 20 three-pointers during the game, with James scoring 25 points and tying a career-high 17 assists.
Kyle Korver had 19 points – including six three-pointers – while Kevin Love had 17 points and 12 rebounds. Jose Calderon had 14 points.
James was satisfied with his tally of assists as much as his points total.
“For me to assist my teammates making shots has always been an enjoyment of mine … my team-mates were excellent tonight,” James said.
“We’re in a good rhythm right now. We know what we want to run, we know where guys are going to be out on the floor, we kind of know how defenses have been playing us as of late and guys are moving and sharing the ball extremely well.
When the ball is moving, energy is behind it and guys are in rhythm.”
The Cavaliers improved to 20-8 and have now won 15 of their last 16 games to keep the pressure on Eastern Conference pace-setters Boston.
Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said the Hawks had struggled to contain James’ passing threat.
Elsewhere Tuesday, Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy was left lamenting his team’s “embarrassing” performance after a seventh straight defeat in a 103-84 rout by the Denver Nuggets.