SALT LAKE CITY (AP)—LeBron James’ sore right knee didn’t throw off his shot much.
James scored 51 Saturday night, becoming the youngest player in NBA history with 5,000 points in his career, and the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Utah Jazz 108-90 Saturday night to snap a six-game losing streak.
The Cavaliers avoided going winless on a six-game road trip and were assured that James, who had X-rays on his knee earlier Saturday, should be fine.
“I was just fighting through it,” said James, who decided shortly before the game to test the knee by starting. “I was trying to fight through a cold, but I didn’t want to make any excuses. I didn’t want to be in the position where I wasn’t there for my team tonight.”
James, who turned 21 on Dec. 30, needed 45 points to pass Kobe Bryant as the youngest player to reach 5,000. Bryant was 22 when he scored his 5,000th point.
James was one point off his season high and eight away from tying his career high. By the end, he had won over the Utah fans and left to a standing ovation with 1:35 remaining in the game.
“He was terrific. He made his shots and he’s just a wonderful player,” Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. “I think we’re intimidated by him a great deal.”
The Jazz fell to 20-21, the first time they’ve had a losing record since falling to 16-17 with an 87-65 loss at Memphis on Jan. 6.
James apparently wasn’t affected by the knee, which he expects to have an MRI exam on after he gets back to Cleveland, or the arrest of his mother, Gloria, on suspicion of drunken driving back in Akron, Ohio.
James, who also had eight assists, was 19-for-35 from the floor and made nine of 11 free throws and the Cavs won for the first time since a 96-88 victory over the Bucks on Jan. 7.
“I came real close” to not playing, James said. “If it had been a one o’clock game, I wouldn’t have made it.”
By 7 p.m, he appeared fine. An hour later, James had the Jazz falling down while trying to keep up with him.
James made a head fake to the basket that got Matt Harpring off balance, then stepped back and hit a turnaround jumper from the free throw line to put the Cavs up 61-56 late in the third quarter.
After two free throws for Utah, Donyell Marshall made a 3-pointer and James extended the lead to 66-58 when he leaped through the lane for a one-handed dunk with about 2 minutes left in the third quarter.
James was short in his postgame comments, apparently upset over criticism he faced during the losing streak.
“It was a great performance. People need to understand that he’s only 21 years old,” said Marshall, who scored 24. “The criticism he’s taking is unfair.”
Cleveland led 73-67 after three periods. Damon Jones, Marshall and James hit consecutive 3-pointers early in the fourth to extend the lead to 84-71 with 9:34 remaining. After a timeout, James added another spectacular dunk, but missed his chance at a three-point play after being fouled by Okur.
“He just did everything he wants,” Kirilenko said. “He drives, he shoots, he scores, he goes to the line, he rebounds the ball.”
The Cavs were 11-for-15 in the second quarter and finished 38-for-70. … Utah made just 17 of 24 free throws. … Utah’s Kris Humphries was the only active player on either team not to make it in the game. … Zydrunas Ilgauskas had 10 points and eight rebounds for Cleveland.