CLEVELAND – LeBron James scored 22 points, Daniel Gibson had 20 of his 25 in the first half and the Cleveland Cavaliers won their home opener 96-79 over Charlotte on Thursday night, spoiling well-traveled coach Larry Brown's debut with the Bobcats.
Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James, left, tries to hold onto the ball against Charlotte Bobcats' Gerald Wallace (3) during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, Oct. 30, 2008, in Cleveland.
(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
James just missed a triple-double, adding nine rebounds and nine assists in only 30 minutes for the Cavs, who bounced back from a sloppy season-opening loss at Boston with a much crisper performance. Mo Williams finished with 17 points.
Jason Richardson scored 24 and Gerald Wallace 13 for the Bobcats.
Gibson made three 3-pointers and eight of 10 shots in the first half, when the Cavs opened a 17-point lead. He is Cleveland's best outside-shooting threat and the Cavs missed him last year in the final two games of the Eastern Conference semifinals against Boston after he separated his shoulder in Game 5.
Gibson's shooting stroke looked as good as ever in the first half, and Cleveland pushed its lead to 19 in the third and appeared to be on its way to a rout.
But the young Bobcats, who went 0-8 in the preseason, rallied and cut it to 62-57 on Richardson's layup late in the third.
The Cavs, though, responded while James was resting on the bench. Coach Mike Brown pulled his superstar with 3:12 left in the third quarter and didn't put him back in until there was 7:27 remaining. While James was out, Cleveland outscored Charlotte 19-10 and opened a 79-63 lead.
Following the Bobcats' winless exhibition season, Brown worried that his club wasn't prepared for the opener.
"I'm not trying to make excuses, but I don't think we're quite ready right now," he said.
The Hall of Famer was half right.
Charlotte was overmatched at times, but made a game of it in the second half before fading and falling to 0-8 in Cleveland.
The Bobcats did get their first look in more than a year at Adam Morrison, who missed last season with a knee injury. Morrison recently cut off his long hair and finished with seven points.
Leading by nine after one, Brown, who wants to limit James to 38 minutes per game this season, kept the Olympic gold medalist on the bench for the first 6-plus minutes of the second quarter. James checked in with 5:45 left and the Cavaliers quickly ripped off eight straight to push their lead to 18.
While James was on the bench, Cleveland rookie J.J. Hickson grabbed a loose ball in the lane and threw down a nasty, two-handed slam for his first points as a pro. James, usually on the receiving end of ovations, jumped out of his chair and screamed for Hickson, who didn't play in the Cavs' opener.
Notes:@ The 68-year-old Brown hasn't lost any of his feistiness, picking up a technical in the third. ... Cavs C Ben Wallace had five blocks. ... James was thrilled with Wednesday night's rally and free concert for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama that he co-hosted with hip-hop star Jay-Z. "It was great," said James. "It wasn't just a concert for Jay-Z, it was a big-picture thing." James previously donated $20,000 to Obama's campaign. ... Crews for TV's "60 Minutes" have been trailing James for the past few days for an upcoming segment on Cleveland's star. ... At least for one night, the Cavs toned down their extravagant pregame ceremony, which used to include four fire-spewing swords on the scoreboard. During a visit to Cleveland during last year's playoffs, NBA commissioner David Stern lamented the use of pyrotechnics around the league.