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Published: Wednesday, 12/24/2008

LeBron, Cavaliers ground Rockets

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Cleveland s LeBron James high-fives a pair of Cavaliers fans. James finished with 27 points, 18 in the second half. Cleveland s LeBron James high-fives a pair of Cavaliers fans. James finished with 27 points, 18 in the second half.
MARK DUNCAN / AP Enlarge

CLEVELAND LeBron James sat in one corner of Cleveland s locker room soaking his sore feet in a tub full of ice. Like a boxer who just left the ring, he was hurting all over.

The Houston Rockets gave him their best shot.

That, James said, was a heavyweight fight. It felt like a playoff game.

James scored 27 points 18 in the second half and made one of the defining defensive plays of his career by pinning Yao Ming s shot against the backboard in the fourth quarter as the Cavaliers remained the NBA s only undefeated team at home with a down-and-dirty 99-90 win last night.

Mo Williams scored 23 and Daniel Gibson made two big 3-pointers in the fourth quarter for the Cavaliers, who improved to 23-2 in their last 25 games and 14-0 at home. They did it against the Western Conference s best road team Houston had won 11 straight road games against Eastern Conference teams dating to last season.

That s a great team, James said. They re a proven team from the West and we re a proven team from the East and we bumped heads together.

Yeah, heads and elbows and forearms and anything else they could throw at each other.

James punctuated one of Cleveland s closest wins at Quicken Loans Arena and a heated game by slapping Yao s layup attempt into the backboard in the final minute. James sneaked up behind the unsuspecting 7-foot-6 center and trapped his shot against the glass before screaming in the Chinese star s direction.

In Mandarin or English?

English, James said with a smile.

That was the block of the year, Williams said. He s had a lot of them, but that was amazing. That s a big guy, and he s so close to the rim you have to jump so quick to get it.

The Cavs are the first team to win their first 14 home games since Chicago and Orlando did it in 1995-96.

Rafer Alston scored 20 points in his first game back after missing four with a strained hamstring and Yao, who spent most of the night in foul trouble, had 19 he was 13-of-13 on free throws for the Rockets, who had their four-game winning streak stopped. Tracy McGrady scored just four points for Houston, which was playing its fourth game in five nights.

Rockets coach Rick Adelman wasn t pleased with some of the calls against Yao.

He got a couple where they said he hit people. All I know is they took him right out of the game, Adelman said.

He also was miffed about the foul disparity in the third quarter when Cleveland was not called for a foul.

I know it probably happens, but it s pretty amazing a team can go the whole third quarter and never get a foul called, he said. No hand check, no body, I mean 12 minutes? They are awfully good.

The Cavaliers seemed to be in control after Williams hit a 3-pointer with 10:09 left to give Cleveland an 82-68 lead. Williams and James celebrated the big shot with a choreographed hand-slapping routine that concluded with the teammates pretending to put guns back into their holsters.

James had more turnovers (five) than field goals (four) in the first half, but he found his offensive rhythm in the third quarter.

He scored 15 points, many of them with Ron Artest draped all over him, as the Cavaliers opened a 73-66 lead entering the fourth.

James made mid-range jumpers, driving layups and came up with another of those did-he-really-do-that? moments on an alley-oop dunk midway through the period. Cutting along the baseline, he jumped and grabbed a pass from Williams that was just above the backboard square and slammed it home.

James and Artest exchanged a few high elbows, choice words and menacing stares during the period. They also got into it in the final seconds, when Artest was whistled for a technical after shoving James down.



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