OKLAHOMA CITY (AP)—Cavaliers coach Mike Brown figures getting LeBron James playoff experience is more important than getting him rest.
James hit a jumper from the top of the key with 0.5 seconds left to give the Cleveland Cavaliers a 103-101 victory over New Orleans on Monday night.
“He is absolutely amazing,” Brown said. “He is the MVP in my opinion.”
Mason then had the task of guarding James off an inbounds pass from Flip Murray, but couldn’t stop him from elevating just inside the 3-point line for the game-winner.
“That last shot is exactly what we want. We wanted to spread the ball and we wanted No. 23 to make a play,” Mike Brown said. “I don’t care what he does with the ball because I know nine times out of 10, he’s going to make the play to win the ballgame.”
P.J. Brown caught an inbounds pass from Speedy Claxton but couldn’t get a tying shot off before the buzzer.
With Cleveland already securing the No. 4 spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Hornets had much more at stake but the loss dropped New Orleans 3 1/2 games behind the Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento Kings, who are tied for seventh place in the West. The Hornets have five games left.
Before the game, Mike Brown talked about cutting back on playing time for James, whose average of 42.9 minutes is second most in the NBA, since the Cavaliers can’t move up or down in the playoff race. James said he’d be fine with that.
“But when we get into a game like this, I want to play,” he said. “Games like this I want to be in down the stretch because I feel like I can make plays for our team.”
When James was replaced by Eric Snow in a three-point game with 9:28 left, he shot a confused look at his coach.
“He didn’t want to come out but I took him out,” Brown said. “And then when I felt LeBron had enough rest, I went ahead and put him back in and he closed the deal for us. He’s big time.”
Mike Brown said he considered the circumstances, including a noisy sellout crowd, and decided he wanted his best players on the court, including James.
“That was a great atmosphere out there. They were feeding off the crowd. They’re desperate for a win. I thought that’s almost as close to a playoff atmosphere as you’re going to get,” the Cavs coach said.
James was out for less than 3 minutes and played heavily into the final outcome.
He made the second of two free throws to put Cleveland ahead 97-96 2:03 left, then attracted three defenders to free up Donyell Marshall for a 3-pointer to put Cleveland up by four.
Claxton answered with a jumper and Paul got the Hornets within 101-100 with two free throws with 30 seconds left before Mason tied it.
Playing in his 43nd minute, James then provided the difference.
Murray added 25 points and Marshall scored 16 for Cleveland, which was 11-for-18 from 3-point range. The Cavaliers have won 11 of their last 12 games.
Paul led New Orleans with 22 points, while West and Claxton added 14 apiece. New Orleans has lost two in a row.
“We just have to win these next five games to give ourselves the opportunity,” Hornets coach Byron Scott said. “That’s it.”
With James off the floor for the first time, the Hornets scored nine straight points to take a 47-37 lead on Kirk Snyder’s 3-pointer from the left side. New Orleans led 63-52 at halftime after outrebounding Cleveland 25-12.
The Cavaliers scored the first nine points of the second half as the Hornets missed their first five straight shots. James drove for a layup to give Cleveland the lead and the Cavaliers started to pull away when Larry Hughes and Murray made back-to-back 3-pointers to make it 81-74.
Cavs C Zydrunas Ilgauskas missed his third straight game with a sprained left ankle. “If we were still struggling to get in the playoffs or to maintain the fourth seed, he could easily play if we wanted him to or if he wanted to,” Mike Brown said. … The Hornets signed forward Marcus Fizer, the MVP of the NBA Developmental League, to a second 10-day contract that will last through the end of the regular season. … Barry Switzer, who led Oklahoma to three NCAA titles and the Dallas Cowboys to one Super Bowl title, sat next to Hornets owner George Shinn at courtside. … Official Scott Foster left with 10:36 remaining with a pulled muscle in his right calf.