OKLAHOMA CITY (AP)—There’s a simple reason why LeBron James shifted the conversation from his anticipated free agency in 2010 to the possibility that he’d sign an extension and stay in Cleveland: The Cavaliers keep on winning.
James scored 31 points and Mo Williams provided the kind of scoring punch expected out of him when he was brought in to be LeBron’s sidekick as Cleveland finished a four-game road trip with a 102-91 win Sunday night over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“We’re playing great basketball. We’ve got a good team. We’re second in the whole league in our record,” James said, referring to the Cavs’ best-ever 23-4 start.
“We have to continue to get better, though. We can’t look at the record and look at some of the standings and be content. We’ve got to continue to get better.”
On Saturday, James for the first time said that he’d “consider” re-signing with the Cavaliers at the end of this season and forgo his first chance at being a free agent a year later. He followed that up by eclipsing 30 points for the fourth straight game, providing another example of why he’d be so coveted if other NBA teams got to bid for his services.
“LeBron is just LeBron. He has been marvelous this whole trip. He has been marvelous the whole year,” Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. “He’s leading this team the right way, more importantly than scoring.
“I don’t even know what he scored tonight. I thought his composure and his leadership was key throughout the entire game, especially in the second half.”
Unlike the teams’ first meeting of the season, the second half actually mattered this time.
Cleveland had a franchise-record 34-point halftime lead in the November game and ended up with a 35-point rout, but this time couldn’t take a double-digit lead until the end of the third quarter.
James delivered that with a drive to the bucket for a three-point play and an 82-72 edge. He added a dunk during a 12-3 run that extended Cleveland’s lead to 18 points and put the game away.
“Although we didn’t execute very well tonight offensively, we made enough shots to win and we got enough stops to win,” Brown said. “I applaud my guys for finding a way tonight.”
Williams, who was brought in this offseason to reinforce for LeBron in a three-team trade that also involved the Thunder, scored 20 points and Delonte West hit his first five shots and finished with 18 points against his former team.
Kevin Durant scored 26 for the Thunder, who were playing for the first time since snapping a franchise-record 11-game home losing streak. Russell Westbrook added 24 points and matched his career-high with 11 assists and Jeff Green scored 16 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
“They’re not just a good team. They’re great,” Oklahoma City interim coach Scott Brooks said. “One day that’s what we want to be. We want to be like that.”
The Thunder couldn’t get a stop early on as the Cavs hit seven of their first eight shots to go up 14-7, but this one didn’t get away like the teams’ earlier meeting in Cleveland. The Cavaliers scored the first 13 points and were never challenged in that game on their way to an 117-82 victory that’s still the most lopsided loss of the season for the Thunder.
“We’ve mentioned that game quite a few times in the last three or four weeks because we felt that we didn’t come out and play the way we need to play,” Brooks said. “We weren’t ready, and it was an emotional loss the night before. … but it was a game that we’re all not too happy about.”
On Sunday, Oklahoma City responded to a timeout by Brooks and forced Cleveland into a shot clock violation and a turnover with one tick left on the 24-second clock on the next two possessions.
At the other end, Brooks repeatedly had his bigger wing players post up West, and the Thunder used the Cavs’ double-teams to create openings elsewhere. Oklahoma City reeled off a 9-2 run to tie it at 16, and Desmond Mason’s right-handed hook shot gave the Thunder their first lead at 25-24.
It stayed close through the rest of the first half, and Cleveland needed an 8-2 spurt to finish the half ahead 52-47.
James gave an exasperated look at the bench after Durant went past him for a two-handed jam that got Oklahoma City within 64-62 in the third quarter, but it wasn’t long before the Cavs took control with a 13-4 run to finish the third quarter.
Cleveland followed a loss at Atlanta by winning the final three games on a road trip that matched its longest of the season. Now, the Cavs head home for the holidays and a three-game homestand.
“It was a good trip for us: To go on the road and play in two buildings Minnesota and here that we’re supposed to take care of, but then going to Denver and taking care of business there also,” James said.
Durant and Sam Bradford, Oklahoma’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, met once before they sat beside each other at the Sooners’ basketball game in Oklahoma City on Saturday night. Durant said his D.C. Blue Devils team faced Bradford’s Athletes First team at an AAU tournament in Las Vegas in the summer of 2005. Durant, a former basketball star at Texas, said he simply congratulated Bradford and wished him well against Florida in the BCS title game Jan. 8. … Cavs G Daniel Gibson returned after missing five games with a sprained big toe on his left foot. … Cleveland lost its last four games in Seattle before the franchise moved to Oklahoma City.