Russell Westbrook didn’t waste much time putting just his second single-digit scoring game of the season behind him.
Before the injury was announced in December, Noel had appeared to fall out of favor with coach Rick Carlisle. The first six of those 42 missed games were listed as coaching decisions. He’s playing on a one-year contract after he couldn’t agree on a long-term deal with the Mavericks, who acquired him at the trading deadline last season.
James also became the first frontcourt player and the 11th overall in league history to reach 8,000 assists.
Rodney Hood’s three-point play with 40 seconds remaining gave Cleveland a 123-121 lead. James and George Hill hit two free throws each in the final 16 seconds to seal the win.
Jarrett Allen’s two free throws gave Brooklyn a 119-117 lead with 1:18 to play. Jordan Clarkson’s 3-pointer put Cleveland ahead, but Allen Crabbe’s runner in the lane put the Nets up 121-120.
Hood, one of four players acquired at the trade deadline, hit a jumper from the wing and made the foul shot that gave Cleveland a two-point lead.
The Pistons outscored Milwaukee 56-34 in the paint and had 15 offensive rebounds in the first half alone. They finished the game with 22.
“You can’t give a team that many extra possessions and have a chance to win,” Milwaukee’s Jabari Parker said. “If we take away those extra possessions, we’re right back in the game.”
Blake Griffin had eight points, nine rebounds and seven assists for Detroit, which trails Miami by three games for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Milwaukee is one game ahead of the Heat.
Eric Bledsoe scored 19 points for the Bucks, who have lost three straight. Milwaukee star Giannis Antetokounmpo left with 10:08 remaining in the game with an apparent injury around his right eye.
“We’ve been told that it is an eye, and he’ll be re-evaluated tomorrow,” Bucks coach Joe Prunty said.
Reggie Bullock scored 12 of his 16 points in the first quarter for the Pistons. It was tied at 32 after one, then Detroit held Milwaukee to 12 points in the second and led 53-44 at halftime.
The Pistons led by as many as 20 in the third and weren’t seriously threatened down the stretch. Milwaukee missed its first 11 shots from the field in the fourth.
Detroit finished with a 57-35 advantage on the boards. Drummond had 10 offensive rebounds. It was his 18th career game with at least 10, the most among active players.