CLEVELAND (AP)—LeBron James has decided it’s time to take control of the Cavaliers.
Cleveland’s star rookie had 23 points and nine assists, and Carlos Boozer scored a career-high 28 points as Cleveland finally won on national television, 95-86 over the Detroit Pistons on Thursday night.
James, whose addition to the Cavs has given them unprecedented exposure, expectations and pressure, helped Cleveland improve to 1-5 in prime-time telecasts.
“We finally got one,” said James, who followed coach Paul Silas’ orders and drove to the basket more than he has all season. “We needed to get one— whether it was on TV or not.”
Cleveland has won just two of 11, but this was a victory that the Cavaliers may one day look back at as the night they became James’ team. The No. 1 overall pick has been reluctant to take on a leadership role, but with 22 games now under his belt, James thinks it may be time for him to start showing the way.
“I haven’t made myself the complete leader of this team,” he said.
But he certainly took a big step.
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “It’s going to change.”
Cleveland also snapped an eight-game losing streak to Detroit. The Cavs hadn’t beaten the Pistons since Dec. 4, 2001.
The win was also Cleveland’s first over a team with a winning record since the Cavs defeated New Orleans last April 5.
Ricky Davis, whose name continually pops up in trade rumors, had 15 points, nine rebounds and five assists. Davis also had a vicious dunk, cutting through four Pistons in the fourth quarter to throw one down as the Cavs were putting it away.
Richard Hamilton, who scored a career-high 44 points in a win over Cleveland on Nov. 28, led the Pistons with 19 points but was bottled up by the Cavs.
Tayshaun Prince added 14 points for Detroit, which shot just 36 percent from the field, was outrebounded 45-28 and has lost three straight.
“We’re playing losing basketball right now,” forward Ben Wallace said. “I’ll take the blame, it’s my fault for letting guys give little effort. We’ve got to get down and play guys, and we’ve got to share the ball.
“And we ain’t doing that.”
Pistons rookie Darko Milicic, selected with the No. 2 pick after James in the NBA draft, had a shot blocked and missed a wide-open dunk in the final seconds.
Milicic still hasn’t scored this season.
“I wanted to see if he acted like he belonged,” Pistons coach Larry Brown said. “He acted like he was insulted.”
Leading by nine, the Cavaliers scored the first seven points of the fourth quarter to open a 77-61 lead on two free throws by Boozer with 9:09 remaining.
However, the Pistons countered with a 14-6 run, capped by Prince’s 3-pointer from the left wing to close within 83-75 with 4:52 remaining.
But the Cavs, who have been unable to close out games this season, showed some maturity down the stretch. James hit a jumper on consecutive possessions and Kevin Ollie drained an open jumper to help Cleveland hang on.
“They hit some shots that killed our emotion,” Pistons guard Chauncey Billups said.
James fed Darius Miles for an alley-oop, Davis hit a jumper and Boozer jammed with 1.5 seconds to go in the third quarter as the Cavs took a 70-61 lead entering the fourth.
“That was the best I’ve seen Ricky Davis play all-around,” Brown said. “Boozer was phenomenal and LeBron hit some big shots. It wasn’t all us. They played well.”
Silas has been urging James to be more involved on offense, and the rookie was just that in the first half with several drives to the basket.
He scored 16 points in the opening half, including the Cavs’ last seven.
“He and I had a little talk prior to the game,” Silas said. “I told him he had to become more aggressive and the intensity level had to increase. He didn’t disappoint anyone tonight. I thought he played a superb game.”
Despite missing 18 of 21 shots in a prolonged drought stretching into the second quarter, the Pistons managed to stay close and pulled within 46-49 athalftime.
James is fourth among Eastern Conference guards in the NBA All-Star balloting released Thursday. James (242,695 votes) trails Allen Iverson, Tracy McGrady and Jason Kidd. “It shows I’ve got a lot of fans,” he said of the early returns for the Feb. 15 game. “All-Star voting doesn’t matter to me, the only thing that matters to me are the fans.” … James has been named one of “The 10 Most Fascinating People of 2003” for an upcoming Barbara Walters’ TV special. … The Pistons are 8-2 against teams under .500. … Cleveland’s 95points were the most Detroit has given up in 11 games.