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Published: Thursday, 12/18/2008

Minnesota fans enjoy James 32

ASSOCIATED PRESS
The Cavaliers  Delonte West, who scored 21 points, splits Minnesota defenders Craig Smith, left, and Mike Miller. The Cavaliers Delonte West, who scored 21 points, splits Minnesota defenders Craig Smith, left, and Mike Miller.
PAUL BATTAGLIA / AP Enlarge

MINNEAPOLIS LeBron James looked relaxed as ever during a rather nonchalant night, a performance still impressive enough for the success-starved Minnesota crowd to warrant a standing ovation upon his departure from the court near game s end.

His effort did not go unappreciated by the Cleveland bench, though, after some demonstrative work on defense.

James helped the Cavaliers return to their winning ways last night with 32 points that sent the Timberwolves to their 11th straight loss, 93-70.

The NBA s second-leading scorer didn t appear to have more than a few beads of sweat on him when he was removed for former Minnesota standout Wally Szczerbiak, but Cleveland coach Mike Brown raved about James s clear, consistent communication and proper positioning on the defensive end.

Brown has begun lobbying for James to be considered for the NBA s all-defensive team.

When you ve got your leader doing that type of stuff on that end of the floor, Brown said, it s very contagious.

James shot 14-for-20 and kept the rim-rattling dunks to a minimum, and his only miss from the field during the first 32 minutes of the game was a just-for-fun 70-footer at the halftime buzzer that bounced in and out of the rim. He had 14 points in the fourth quarter to lead the charge to a double-digit margin of victory, then walked off to a hearty cheer and waved to the few thousand fans that remained once he reached his seat.

You can never be prepared for something like that, being on the road, James said. It s great. Great fans here. I really appreciate it.

After 11 consecutive victories, the Cavs were beaten by the Atlanta Hawks 97-92 on Saturday night. They raised their record to 21-4, the exact opposite of Minnesota s, with yet another defense-fueled performance. It didn t take much against the lifeless Wolves, who haven t lost this many games in a row in 14 years. The franchise record is 16 straight.

Kevin McHale dropped to 0-6 since taking over for RandyWittman as coach.

We ve got to keep working at it. Nobody said it was going to be easy, said Al Jefferson, who had to work for his 20 points against Cleveland s interior defensive specialist, Ben Wallace.

Mike Miller was more aggressive than he s been for most games this season for Minnesota, finishing with 14 points and seven rebounds on 7-for-12 shooting, and Kevin Ollie threw in 12 points against one of his many former teams. But Wallace and Anderson Varejao helped limit Jefferson s damage underneath, doubling him occasionally and clogging the driving lanes to keep the Wolves from finding an offensive rhythm.

They were outscored 36-14 over the final 16 minutes of the game, thanks in part to a final flurry by James. Brown was so impressed by the way he was leading with his voice and his effort on defense that he left his star in the game to start the fourth quarter instead of sitting him for the first few minutes like usual.

He works hard at it, Brown said.

Delonte West had 21 points for the Cavs, and Szczerbiak had 10 points in his reserve role.

Ryan Gomes missed back-to-back 3-pointers, both that would ve tied the game at 59. Then West swished a floating 12-footer to stretch the lead to five. After a don t-blink, fast-break dunk by James keyed by a blocked shot by Szczerbiak the Cavs were quickly up 63-56 by the end of the third quarter.

Rashad McCants finished 0-for-8 from the floor with two points and three fouls in 17 minutes. The Wolves went 1-for-14 from 3-point range.

At some point, we re going to have to knock some of those down, McHale said.

Zydrunas Ilgauskus (sprained left ankle) missed his third straight game and Daniel Gibson (sprained left big toe) sat out for the fourth straight game.



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