CLEVELAND  ( exclusive) --  For the Cleveland Cavaliers, this is more like it.

This is a little closer to what they expected following a season in which they finished with the league's best regular-season record. This is what they hoped for when they acquired Shaquille O'Neal in the off season without barely surrendering a soul.

And Saturday's 90-79 win over the visiting Charlotte Bobcats offered proof that this is starting to work out fairly well, that the Cavs are inching closer to becoming whole.

"We have a lot of room to grow, but our guys understand that," said Cavs coach Mike Brown. "It's good that they understand that, and I think in time, we will be a very good basketball team. We're pretty good right now, but we have the chance to be great."

While the big news of the night was the return of guard Delonte West (to a standing ovation), perhaps just as notable was the reintroduction of the Cavaliers' defense. Or at least, the type of defense that brings a wide smile to Brown's face.

How else do you explain Cleveland taking a 45-41 halftime lead despite LeBron James attempting just three field goals in the first two quarters?

It's because defense led to offense.

To wit:

* Cavs guard Mo Williams leaped to intercept a Raymond Felton pass in the first quarter, then dribbled the length of the floor, bouncing the ball behind his back to elude Felton and drive in for a layup.

* Not long after that, a tipped pass led to a James steal, and as the king of basketball often does, he quickly hit the open man. This time it was forward Anderson Varejao, who gathered in the long outlet pass and threw one down.

* Later, Varejao returned the favor by finding James for a throw down of his own.

Add it all up, and it's understandable why talk of the Cavs' 0-2 start has quickly vanished.

"Defensively, we were pretty good," Brown said. "Everybody seemed like they were flying around the ball to help one another and contest shots. I was pleased with our defensive effort and focus tonight."

As for West, his return hardly couldn't have gone any smoother. When he entered the game at the 4:22 mark of the first quarter, the Cavs had the same lineup on the floor that won 66 games last season -- James, Varejao, Zydrunas Ilguaskas, Mo Williams, and finally, West.

West appeared a little apprehensive at first, taking one shot in the first half. But he clearly gained confidence as the Cavs built their lead in the second half, loosening up to finish with 5-for-7 from the field for 13 points on the night.

"I've said it 20 times and I'll say it again, he's an important part of our team," James said of West, whose absence has been the result of a battle with emotional disorders. "It's great having him back."

Added Brown: "Delonte can play. He really affects the game in a lot of different ways. He's a guy who can score, but also run the team and distribute the ball at the right time."

James, of course, was also more aggressive offensively in the second half as well. He scored an uncharacteristically low 14 points, but passed for a team-high nine assists and grabbed seven rebounds.

"LeBron got 14 (points) but he could have had 50," said Bobcats coach Larry Brown. "The way he plays ... he's just so unselfish."

As good as the Cavs were defensively, they were almost as flawless on offense.

Williams tallied a game-high 24 points on 9-for-14 shooting. Ilgauskas went 5-of-5 from the field for 10 points. And no one was more of a shining example of Brown's talk of contested shots, as Ilgauskas blocked a whopping five shots.

Overall, the Cavs shot 58 percent from the floor -- even if O'Neal was just 3-of-7 for eight points.

"I'm just making sure everyone else is all right for now," O'Neal said. "I'll get mine."

Meanwhile, the Bobcats put forth another scrappy effort, but as is usually the case against the Cavs, all their blood and sweat turned to tears in the end.

"I saw a lot of good things, but unfortunately, I keep seeing the same bad things," Larry Brown said. "The guys are trying to do the right thing; we just gotta clean it up a little."

Vladimir Radmanovic came off the bench to lead the Bobcats with 12 points. D.J. Augustin and Gerald Wallace added 11 apiece, with Wallace also collecting a game-high nine rebounds.

The Bobcats (1-2) are 0-10 at Quicken Loans Arena.