Cavaliers 90, Knicks 68

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CLEVELAND (AP)—LeBron James tilted his head slightly to the right, just enough to catch the score of the Detroit-San Antonio game winding down on one of the giant big-screen TVs in the locker room.

The Cavaliers aren’t supposed to be watching the standings or the scoreboard.

“I am,” James said. “I want a division championship banner for this team and for the city of Cleveland.”

James had 21 points and 10 assists and the Cavaliers led for all but 13 seconds in a less-than-enthralling 90-68 victory over the sluggish and sloppy New York Knicks on Friday night.

Cleveland’s ninth win in 11 games, coupled with Detroit’s 90-89 loss to the Spurs, pulled the Cavaliers within one game of the first-place Pistons in the Central Division—and one game from the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

Cavs coach Mike Brown doesn’t want his players focusing on anything but getting better. However, James’ eyes are wandering.

“I’m definitely looking at the standings everyday to see what Detroit is doing,” he said. “I’m watching.”

After being humiliated in an overtime loss to Charlotte and humbled by Dallas on consecutive nights earlier this week, the Cavs took control in the first quarter and handled the Knicks with ease.

Larry Hughes and Zydrunas Ilgauskas added 16 points apiece for Cleveland.

“It was only a two-game losing streak so we weren’t struggling that much, just in a couple areas,” Hughes said. “It’s big win for us. That’s a team that we probably should beat. We jumped on them, got the lead to 10 and kept it there.”

While the Cavaliers are making their move toward the top, the Knicks are going in the other direction.

Eddy Curry scored 27 points with nine rebounds to pace New York, which lost for the fifth time in six games and is running out of time to make a playoff push. The Knicks scored just 12 points in the fourth quarter, only 30 in the second half and had their lowest-scoring game this season.

Rookie Renaldo Balkman added 12 points for the undermanned Knicks, who had 20 turnovers.

“We just don’t have the bodies,” said New York coach Isiah Thomas, still without injured guards Jamal Crawford and Quentin Richardson. “We were starting to peak at the right time and playing really good ball and defensively we were kicking in. We’ll keep pushing.”

James, who was dazed after banging his head on the floor in a nasty fall against the Mavericks, seemed to be himself while scoring 14 points in 18 minutes of the second half. When Cleveland pushed its lead to 21 in the fourth quarter, James came out and spent the final 5:47 on the bench.

He grabbed a seat just before his 2-year-old son, LeBron James Jr., threw a plastic orange ball from his courtside seat onto the floor for at least the second time this season. Then, the toddler came over and laid down next to his daddy, who wrapped up a towel and put it under the youngster’s head as a pillow.

“He wasn’t in a timeout,” James chuckled. “He had a lot of fun over there. He do what he want to do.”

Leading by eight at halftime, the Cavaliers got consecutive 3s from Hughes and Sasha Pavlovic while opening the third quarter with a 13-2 spurt to open a 59-40 lead.

Other than Balkman, who scored eight points in the period, the Knicks couldn’t get anything going on offense and fell behind 70-56 entering the fourth. It didn’t get much better as they kept misfiring shots and allowing Cleveland easy buckets.

“You never want to blame it on injuries,” Curry said, “but you have to be real about the situation. It seems that at this point we have to go out and play a perfect game in order to win. It’s tough.”

Notes

James stayed up late to watch Ohio State rally and beat Tennessee on Thursday night in the NCAA tournament. “What’s 20 points?” James said, referring to the Buckeyes’ first-half deficit. “They have all those guys, (Greg) Oden and (Mike) Conley, plus they’re wearing my uniforms and shoes. That helped them get over the hump.” Ohio State is sporting new form-fitting jerseys and baggy shorts bearing a James logo. … The Knicks signed C Randolph Morris, who a week ago was playing in the NCAA tournament for Kentucky, to a two-year contract. He became available because of a unique provision in the collective bargaining agreement. Morris is part of New York’s future plans, but with so many players injured, joked, “We could use him for practice right now.”

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Top Performers

 Top Performers
 New York
E. Curry E. Curry
9-16,  27 Pts
9 Rebs, 2 Assists
 Cleveland
L. James L. James
8-16,  21 Pts
3 Rebs, 10 Assists

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Rebounds
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Friday, Mar 23