James leads Cavaliers to 99-89 win over Nets

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CLEVELAND (AP)—Shaquille O’Neal(notes) vowed to protect LeBron James(notes) when he was acquired by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the offseason.

Apparently, that goes for the rest of the King’s men, too.

O’Neal had 16 points and stepped right in when Jamario Moon(notes) was taken down by a hard foul in the fourth quarter, helping the Cavaliers beat the New Jersey Nets 99-89 on Tuesday night.

With Cleveland leading by 11 with 3:48 left, Devin Harris(notes) was called for a flagrant foul and ejected after wrapping his arm around Moon’s face and neck and pulling him to the ground when Moon went up for a breakaway basket. James, who finished with 23 points, immediately tried to quiet the incident by putting his arms around Harris, while O’Neal began jawing and pushing his way toward a forming scrum.

“It was a hard foul,” O’Neal said. “I just wanted to make sure nobody got into a squabble. A grab here, grab there, everywhere a grab-grab.”

No punches were thrown and order was quickly restored. Harris, who said he didn’t intend the foul to be malicious, was the only player ejected.

It was another ugly moment in a frustrating season for the Nets (2-23), who opened the year by losing a league-record 18 in a row.

“I tried to not let him get a layup,” Harris said. “He did fall kind of hard. What can you do at that point?”

Moon thought it probably looked worse than it really was.

“I don’t think it was intentional,” he said. “He went for the ball and just missed it, I guess. I have no hard feelings.”

For all their struggles, the Nets were within two midway through the third quarter when James started taking over. His steal and basket prevented New Jersey from tying it and came in the midst of a furious five-minute stretch, when he scored 10 of the team’s 12 points to end the third and start the fourth.

James also had seven assists and six rebounds. He said he doesn’t believe Harris is a dirty player, but he still felt compelled to defend a teammate.

“I don’t think he intentionally went for his head, but he caught it,” James said. “That’s a play we cannot have in this game.”

Cleveland was 39 of 67 (58 percent) from the floor to tie its best shooting percentage of the season, but couldn’t shake New Jersey because of eight first-half turnovers and constant fouls. The Nets were 18 of 23 from the free-throw line in the first half, but finished 24 of 29.

The sluggish play against sub-.500 teams continues to frustrate Cavaliers coach Mike Brown, who made it a point during the morning shootaround to tell his players that five of Cleveland’s seven losses have come against teams with losing records.

“It’s something we have to continue trying to figure out,” Brown said. “We don’t need to play at a high level, but at a consistent level throughout games.”

Cleveland centers O’Neal and Zydrunas Ilgauskas(notes) had identical nights—16 points on 7 of 9 shooting and five rebounds.

Brook Lopez(notes) had 22 points and 15 rebounds for New Jersey, but 20 of those points came in the first half. He did not make a basket in the second half. Harris finished with 22 points and reserve Rafer Alston(notes) had 20.

Lopez insists the team is making progress, despite falling to 1-15 on the road.

“You don’t see the benefits of it on the scoreboard,” he said. “We didn’t close out. We’re getting there, as tough as it is to hear, game in and game out.”

Cleveland’s Delonte West(notes) was inactive, missing his ninth game as he continues to bounce in and out of the rotation. West has been dealing with personal problems all season, but had played in nine consecutive games prior to Tuesday.

The Nets played without Chris Douglas-Roberts(notes) and Keyon Dooling(notes). Douglas-Roberts, who is averaging 16.2 points, missed his second straight game with a sprained left knee. Dooling missed his third straight game with strained hip flexors.

NOTES: The Cavaliers have reached a deal to sell Tsingtao, a popular Chinese beer, inside Quicken Loans Arena. The team is close to finalizing a sale of 15 percent of the franchise to Chinese investors. … Cleveland has won eight straight at home. … Tony Battie(notes), battling a strained groin, did not dress for New Jersey. … The Nets hit their average after entering last in the league (89.3) in scoring.

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Tuesday, Dec 15