James scored 37 points to lead Cleveland to its ninth straight win—a 124-91 rout of the Philadelphia 76ers—but just as the playoff-bound Cavaliers got one key player back from injury, they lost another Tuesday night.
“We were pumped when we found out Larry was playing,” said forward Donyell Marshall. “But believe me, we all got scared when we saw ‘Z’ go down. Hopefully, it’s not bad.”
Coach Mike Brown said Ilgauskas is doubtful to play in New York on Wednesday.
“He had an MRI and it came out fine,” said Brown. “We’ll see how he feels in the morning.”
Allen Iverson scored 38 points to lead the 76ers, but also twisted his left ankle late in the second half.
“Yeah, I came down wrong,” said Iverson. “But we’ve got a game tomorrow and we’ve got to come to play.”
The 76ers, battling the Chicago Bulls for the last playoff berth in the East, had a two-game winning streak snapped and lost for the eighth time in 11 games. The 76ers face the Bulls on Wednesday and Saturday.
Cleveland, in the postseason for the first time since 1998, lowered its magic number to three for clinching the fourth seed and home-court advantage in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
The Cavaliers scored a season high, had their largest victory margin of the season, and extended their longest streak since winning 10 straight in 1997.
“We feel like we can beat anybody right now, home or away,” said James. “We’re very, very close to being a great team and it is coming at the right time.
“But we still have to prove ourselves in the playoffs.”
Not having Ilgauskas would make it difficult. The 7-foot-3 center, averaging 16.6 points and 7.7 rebounds, landed awkwardly on his left foot just 2:26 into the game. He rolled on the floor in pain for a moment, then got up and walked to the locker room to be examined.
Ilgauskas has missed only seven of Cleveland’s past 320 games since being sidelined the entire 1999-2000 season after surgery on his left foot. He missed all of 1996-97 with a broken right foot.
Hughes entered to a standing ovation with 2:20 left in the first quarter. In 28 games before breaking his right index finger and twice having surgery, Hughes averaged 16.2 points and 3.9 assists after signing a five-year, $60 million contract.
“It felt great to get out there,” said Hughes after scoring 10 points in 20 minutes. “I know you can’t get it back all in one night. I’m on a four or five-game pace to find my rhythm and help my team.”
James played only 35 minutes, but surpassed 35 points for the seventh consecutive game—the longest such streak in the league this season. He shot 13-for-22 on several long-range jumpers, power drives and thunderous dunks. His power slam and free throw for a three-point play put Cleveland ahead 87-63 with 7:51 left in the third quarter.
“If we’re up by 30, I feel a little more comfortable sitting,” said James, who admitted it was nice to get a rare few minutes rest. “If we’re ahead only 10 or 12, I get nervous.”
Drew Gooden tied a season high with 23 points for Cleveland, which led 69-50 at halftime after scoring their most points in a half this season.
“We just couldn’t stop them,” said Iverson. “We’re not doing a good job defensively.”
Iverson made 17 of 19 free throws while Chris Webber had 21 points for the 76ers.
Marshall played with a chipped bone in the little finger of his left hand. “I’ll just keep playing,” he said before the game. “I shoot with my right hand.” He had six points and 10 rebounds in 24 minutes. … The win was just Cleveland’s fifth in the last 27 meetings with the 76ers. … Long after the first-half buzzer sounded, James flung in a 60-footer to the cheers of the crowd. … James and Damon Jones each hit four 3-pointers as Cleveland shot 11-for-22 from beyond the arc. … F-C Anderson Varejao had his first career double-double, 11 points and 14 rebounds, as Cleveland, dominated the boards 50-27.