SAN ANTONIO – LeBron James scored 35 points and the Cleveland Cavaliers withstood a late surge by Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs for an 88-81 victory Friday night.

Duncan scored 14 points in a 5-minute span in the fourth quarter as the Spurs steadily shaved a 13-point deficit to pull within four. But missed free throws – Duncan was 9-of-19 for the game – doomed the rally and the Spurs, one of the NBA’s dominant homecourt teams the last four seasons lost their home opener.

James, who missed five consecutive shots in the Spurs’ rally, hit a layup then followed it with a free throw for an 86-79 lead with 42 seconds left.

Larry Hughes finished with 18 points for Cleveland.

Duncan had 25 points and 12 rebounds, while Tony Parker had 21 points for the Spurs, who went 18-of-34 from the line.

James, who scored 44 points in a game against the Spurs last season, started strong again Friday night.

Working mostly against Spurs defensive specialist Bruce Bowen, James scored 15 in the first quarter, including a monstrous one-handed dunk when he drove the lane and powered over Duncan before heading back up court with a snarl.

The Spurs managed to quiet James in the second quarter, holding him to four points, but couldn’t find an offensive rhythm to take the lead. Manu Ginobili scored 13 by halftime, but Duncan and Parker were mostly quiet, combining for 10 points.

James finished the half with a highlight layup, again driving past Duncan for an off-balance shot that he finished with a giddy-up dance in front of the Cavaliers’ bench.

Cleveland led 62-56 going into the fourth. James started the final period on the bench but sloppy play by the Spurs helped the Cavs stretch the lead to 69-56 with free throws and a 3-pointer by Hughes.

When James started missing, the Spurs started their comeback when Duncan hit a free throw and a dunk.

The Spurs have lost only 19 times on their home court since 2003, but two have come in the last two games. The Spurs lost to Dallas in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals last season.

Notes: Before the game, Spurs F Robert Horry spoke to the crowd and pledged to try to win another NBA championship. The Spurs lost to Dallas in the Western Conference semifinals last season. “We’d like to welcome you to another edition of the Spurs show,” he said. … The Spurs signed G-F James White on Friday. White averaged 3.8 points and 2.0 rebounds in eight preseason games with Indiana. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

AP-ES-11-03-06 2308EST

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