The Cleveland Cavaliers already seemingly have all the pieces in place to win their first championship. They’ve added another one that’s a familiar face to Cavaliers fans.
Ilgauskas signed Tuesday to return to the league-leading Cavaliers (56-15), although he still plans to pursue free agency in the offseason.
Cleveland sent Ilgauskas to Washington at the trade deadline in a three-team deal that brought Antawn Jamison(notes) and Sebastian Telfair(notes) to the Cavaliers. He did not appear in a game with the lowly Wizards, and many Cleveland fans were upset to see one of the franchise’s most popular players leave.
The 7-foot-3 Ilgauskas, averaging career lows of 7.5 points and 5.3 rebounds this season, spent his entire career with the Cavaliers since being drafted 20th overall in 1996. He’s the franchise leader in games (760), blocks (1,259) and rebounds (5,841).
“The way people in Cleveland and the fans have reacted has really humbled me in a positive way,” Ilgauskas said. “Their support has been unbelievable. I’m from Lithuania and I’ll always be proud of it, but this has become a home to me.”
Cleveland is completing a five-game stretch against clubs with losing records after a 104-79 home win over Detroit on Sunday. Leon Powe(notes) led six Cavs in double figures with 16 points and LeBron James(notes) had 15 - his fewest in nearly two months.
The Cavs, 13-1 since a three-game skid following the All-Star break, have a magic number of six to clinch the best record in the Eastern Conference.
“We are at a point where you don’t want to take any type of steps back going into the playoffs,” James said. “We’re going to try and finish out the season the right way.”
The Cavaliers have won 12 straight with James in the lineup, beginning with a 105-95 victory over New Orleans (34-38) on Feb. 23. James had 20 points in that victory as Cleveland overcame Hornets rookie Marcus Thornton’s(notes) season-high 37.
“We won. I was just happy to get out there on the court,” said Paul, who was limited to 21 minutes. “I wasn’t worrying about scoring or anything like that. I just wanted to try to get the feel back and get the win.”
Thornton took advantage of his first start since Feb. 3 with 28 points. The 6-4 shooting guard is averaging 22.4 on 50.0 percent shooting in 16 games since his huge effort against Cleveland.
The Cavs have lost their last three road games against the Hornets, who have limited James to an average of 17.0 points on 38.9 percent shooting in those contests.
Paul was the catalyst to those wins for the Hornets, averaging 24.7 points, 11.7 assists and 3.3 steals.