LOS ANGELES—It wasn’t always pretty, but the Cleveland Cavaliers held on for a 105-99 victory over the Orlando Magic on Saturday to stay unbeaten in the fledgling NBA season.
Shooting guard J.R. Smith, whose contract dispute dragged on through training camp before the reigning NBA champs inked him to a four-year deal worth as much as $57 million, gave good value with three three-pointers in the final three and a half minutes as Cleveland won after letting most of an 18-point lead get away.
“Not every game is going to be pretty for us,” Cavs guard Kyrie Irving said. “We understand that. (We) came off a kind of late win just like this against Toronto yesterday and now Swish (Smith) hit the big shot. For us it’s just about being ready no matter what the score is. We’ve just got to stay resilient.”
Superstar LeBron James had 23 points, nine assists and six rebounds, Irving added 20 and Smith shook off another slow start to score 16 points – 11 of them in the fourth quarter.
Kevin Love fouled out in the final minute with 19 points and five rebounds as the Cavaliers improved to 3-0 for the season less than a week after raising their 2015-16 championship banner.
After controlling most of the contest, Cleveland opened the fourth quarter shooting just 2 of 12. They went more than five minutes without a basket from the floor, and the Magic had trimmed the deficit to 88-85 with four minutes to play.
“I just thought there was a stretch in the game where we messed around, took some bad shots,” Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said.
Lue said Smith is still finding his rhythm after missing all but one pre-season game.
But James found him in the corner for a big three-pointer after Orlando’s Elfrid Payton’s jump shot pulled the visitors within three.
Smith added another three-pointer on the Cavaliers’ next trip down and one more in the final minute.
“The guys just set the table for me,” Smith said. “It was just time for me to eat.”
In Denver, Damian Lillard made a floating seven-foot shot with three-tenths of a second remaining in overtime to lift the Portland Trail Blazers to a 115-113 triumph.