LeBron James flirted with a triple-double as the Cleveland Cavaliers roared out of the all-star break to thrash the Toronto Raptors, 93-76, on Wednesday. The forward appeared to be suffering from an all-star party hangover, misfiring on his first four shots and finishing the opening half with just four points.
The league's leading scorer, however, averaging more than 28 points a game, finished strong with 20 points along with nine assists and nine rebounds to narrowly miss his 21st career triple-double. "I just took what the defence gave me," James said. "They gave me an opportunity to dish out to my teammates in the first half, in the second half they closed down on my shooters and I was able to be aggressive.
"I don't think about the triple-double but my game does. "That sounds a little crazy but that's just how my game is built. My game is built around playing an all-around game." The victory allowed the Cavaliers to trim the Boston Celtics' lead in the East standings to 1.5 games. The Raptors remain anchored near the bottom of the conference in 14th place. Zydrunas Ilgauskas contributed a game high 22 points for Cleveland while Joey Graham led the Raptors with a 15-point effort.
Shawn Marion, obtained in a trade with Miami during the all-star break, eased into the Toronto starting line-up and had a solid debut for his new team. With the all-star Chris Bosh on the bench with a sprained knee, Marion logged a team high 40 minutes of work, hitting 10 points with six assists and six rebounds. The Raptors had the early jump by racing to a 19-10 lead but Cavaliers quickly found their rhythm, finishing the opening quarter with a 14-4 run to nose in front 24-23.
Cleveland continued to pull away in the second quarter, taking a 47-41 edge into the intermission. The Cavaliers took command in the third with James leading the charge with eight points, including two thundering dunks, to surge in front 71-56. "LeBron is a special player," the Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. "He can have two points in the first half and you just know he is going to end up with 20 plus.
"He almost had a triple-double tonight and you would never have thought that at half-time." The Toronto coach, Jay Triano, was not around to watch the end of his team's second-half collapse after he was ejected from the game with five minutes to play for arguing an official's call. In Oakland, Trevor Ariza scored 10 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter as the West-leading Los Angeles Lakers rallied for a 129-121 victory over the Golden State Warriors.
Stephen Jackson and Corey Maggette scored 24 points, while Anthony Randolph contributed 14 and 12 rebounds for Golden State, who led for a majority of the game before being outscored, 39-29, in the fourth quarter. In Philadelphia, Chauncey Billups scored 22 points to lead the Denver Nuggets to a 101-89 victory over the 76ers. Billups scored 17 of his points in the third quarter when Denver seized control of the game.
Elsewhere, Chris Paul recorded 36 points and 10 assists as the New Orleans Hornets cruised to a 117-85 triumph over the Orlando Magic, while Mike Bibby scored 29 points to lead the Atlanta Hawks to a 105-100 victory over the Sacramento Kings. Joe Johnson added 20 points and Al Horford scored 18 and grabbed 18 rebounds for Atlanta. The two-time All-Star Brandon Roy scored seven points in the final four-and-a-half minutes, including a pair of game-clinching free throws with three seconds on the clock, to lead the Portland Trail Blazers to a 94-90 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies.
In Los Angeles, Amare Stoudemire contributed 42 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Phoenix Suns to a 142-119 rout of the Clippers. Steve Nash had 21 points and 12 assists while All-Star Shaquille O'Neal contributed 16 and six boards for Phoenix. Finally, Kirk Hinrich scored 31 points off the bench to lead the Chicago Bulls to a 113-104 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks, while Gerald Wallace carried Charlotte Bobcats to a 103-94 victory over the Indiana Pacers.
The Minnesota Timberwolves ended a five-game skid with a 111-104 triumph over the Miami Heat, while Josh Howard led the way for the Dallas Mavericks with 24 points and 10 boards in a 113-98 win over the New Jersey Nets. * With agencies