Cleveland is in search of its fourth straight win—all since James began wearing a protective mask after being hit in the face by an elbow from Houston’s Dikembe Mutombo on Dec. 29. The Cavaliers’ run started with James getting 26 points and six assists in a 94-83 win at Charlotte on Jan. 3.
It was the type of performance the Bobcats have gotten used to seeing from James. Last season’s Rookie of the Year is averaging 23.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 5.7 assists in three victories against Charlotte this season.
In Cleveland’s 104-79 win over New York on Saturday, James put on a show by making his first eight shots, including five dunks, as the Cavaliers built a 67-36 lead by halftime. James and the starters watched as the reserves closed the half on a 30-10 tear.
“I don’t want to get used to sitting, but that was fun to watch,” James said. “Give our second rotation credit. They did a great job.”
Lucious Harris scored a season-high 16 points and Sasha Pavlovic added 10 to key a huge effort by the bench. Anderson Varejao had nine points and 10 rebounds for the Cavaliers, who will begin their six-game road trip Thursday in Los Angeles against the Lakers.
“I’m putting five new guys out there now,” Cleveland coach Paul Silas said. “They’re learning each other, and playing with each other in practice, and having that kind of effect against the starters. So it’s slowly but surely all coming together.”
Charlotte has dropped seven of eight, including a 111-91 defeat at Orlando on Friday. Primoz Brezec scored 18 points to lead the Bobcats, who allowed the Magic to shoot 50.7 percent.
“I think we contributed to their stellar play,” Charlotte coach Bernie Bickerstaff said. “You could consider us their eighth man if you wanted to, with our defense.”
Okafor has just one double-double in his last three games after setting a rookie record with 19 straight. He has been held in check by the Cavaliers, averaging just 10.7 points and 7.0 rebounds in the first three meetings between the teams.
STANDINGS (through Jan. 9): Bobcats - 4th place, 16 GB, Southeast Division. Cavaliers - 1st place, Central Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Bobcats - Okafor, 15.7 ppg and 11.2 rpg; Knight, 9.4 apg. Cavaliers - James, 24.3 ppg and 7.1 apg; Gooden, 10.2 rpg.
SEASON SERIES: Cavaliers, 3-0.
LAST MEETING: Jan. 3; Cavaliers, 94-83. At Charlotte, Gooden had 19 points and 14 rebounds and helped neutralize Okafor, who finished with 12 points and six rebounds.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Bobcats - 1-14 on the road; Cavaliers - 13-3 at home.