Victory is often a dish best served family style.
The Cavaliers didn't get 50, 40 or even 30 points from LeBron James. They didn't score 100 points as a team. They didn't lose, either.
Playing some of the best team ball in weeks, the Cavs came up with perhaps the best collective victory of the season Thursday, 94-85 over the Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets played without starting center Marcus Camby (finger) and speedy point guard Earl Boykins (hamstring), but it didn't seem to take any satisfaction from the victory.
It snapped a three-game losing streak and breathed some life into a team that was dangerously near flatlining.
Unlike their recent skid, in which they'd dropped seven out of nine games, the Cavs (12-9) didn't just hand the ball to James and stand around when times got tough. And defensively, when one player got beat, they didn't stand around and watch a guy in the other jersey streak to the basket or calmly drill an open jump shot. It almost looked like a completely different team.
"It was the same team," James said. "We just played with different effort and energy tonight."
It started at the defensive end, where the Cavs have slowly been getting better over the past week, even though it hasn't shown on the scoreboard. This night, the help-and-recover system was working, plus the team responded to coach Mike Brown's call for more intensity.
There were bumps, especially when the Nuggets (12-11) went on a 15-0 run in the third quarter that left the 17,182 fans at Quicken Loans Arena smelling another defeat. But for the most part, the Cavs made the Nuggets take contested jump shots, Brown's oft-repeated desire.
Denver ended up shooting just 38 percent, the lowest by a Cavs opponent in 14 games. They're 8-1 when they hold their opposition to less than 45 percent shooting.
Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony got 23 points, his average, but he needed 23 shots to get there. In all, the Nuggets managed just 30 points in the paint for the evening.
"It was one of the first games I feel good about winning the right way," said Brown, who strives to hold opponents under 90 points and less than 42 percent shooting, numbers not often met by his team this season.
"It started with our defense, our defense fueled our offense. They brought it individually and they brought it as a team."
The same approach at the opposite end also brought results. James finished with just 26 points, the first time in seven games he'd failed to crack the 30-point barrier. It was actually a positive sign, because he got his teammates involved and they delivered.
There wasn't much of a choice. James was hampered by a left shin bruise that forced him to the locker room for treatment late in the first half. Plus the Nuggets employed a near constant double-team on him, forcing the ball out of his hands and helping James' teammates beat them.
The teammates did. Damon Jones scored a season-high 17 points, hitting five 3-pointers. Zydrunas Ilgauskas chipped in with 16, and Donyell Marshall scored 11. In all, the Cavs had six players in double figures.
The sharing reached a height in the fourth quarter, when James dished out four of his nine assists during a 21-9 run that clinched it. The Cavs ended up with 23 assists, the most they've had in 10 games.
"You see what kind of team we are when we come to play," James said. "We were able to use the impact players that we have to our advantage."
In other NBA action: San Antonio 90, Minnesota 88; Houston 104, Seattle 98.