CLEVELAND Before packing for Phoenix, Mo Williams padded his All-Star stats.
Playing in his first home game since finally being made an All-Star after being skipped over twice, Williams scored a career-high 44 points and LeBron James added 26 as the Cleveland Cavaliers reached the break by winning their 40th game, 109-92 over the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday night.
The Cavs, who believe they were wronged by a controversial call in the final seconds of a one-point loss at Indiana on Tuesday, bounced back from their first two-game losing slide this season with an impressive performance. They had their 23-game home winning streak stopped on Sunday by the Los Angeles Lakers.
But with Williams going 18-of-26 from the floor, making seven 3-pointers and adding seven assists, Cleveland embarked on a new home streak while its point guard provided a final argument he should have been an Eastern Conference All-Star from the outset.
We all believed he should have been there, James said. I think that s part of the reason he played so well tonight, to let everybody know that he really belongs there.
The Cavaliers easily outran the speedy Suns, who were without starting point guard Steve Nash. He didn t dress to get extra rest for numerous sore spots.
Amare Stoudemire scored 27 and Grant Hill 14 for Phoenix (28-23), which will host this weekend s All-Star activities and could undergo a makeover before the Feb. 21 trading deadline. Stoudemire and Shaquille O Neal have both been mentioned in trade rumors that are expected to intensify in the coming days; the Suns have been a disappointment to this point.
The rumors I can deal with, Stoudemire said. That s part of the game. Losing is not. I m definitely not used to it. This is something new to me.
Stoudemire doesn t know what the future holds.
I m not sure, Stoudemire said. I still think I ll be in Phoenix next week, but you never know.
After leading by 12 at the half, the Cavaliers pushed their lead to 15 before they got complacent and allowed the Suns to trim a 15-point deficit to five in the third quarter. But that s when Williams and James, Cleveland s All-Star reps, took over.
Williams hit a 3-pointer, James scored on a drive and Williams made another long-range shot as the Cavs pushed their lead back to 16 by the end of the third period.
With Williams three points away from breaking his previous career high of 43, set on Jan. 27 against Sacramento, the point guard buried another 3-pointer from the right wing with 6:20 left to give the Cavaliers a 103-79 lead. At the next whistle, Williams was replaced as Cavs fans gave him a standing ovation; he got a hug from James as he reached the bench.
Mo was on fire, Stoudemire said. We couldn t contain him. He had his shotgun cocked and loaded. Props to him on the way he shot the ball.
Williams arrival from Milwaukee in an offseason trade is the biggest reason the Cavaliers are 40-11 at the All-Star break they were 29-23 at the unofficial midseason point a year ago and a legitimate threat to make a run at their first NBA title this spring.
It took Williams three tries to make the All-Star team. He was first left off ballots by Eastern Conference coaches, who selected the reserves. Then, commissioner David Stern selected Boston s Ray Allen to replace injured Orlando guard Jameer Nelson before finally taking Williams on Tuesday to fill in for Toronto s Chris Bosh, who hurt his knee last week.
Williams is looking forward to his first All-Star appearance, and doesn t mind if he was a late add-on.
I m going to have fun, he said. I m going out there like I was the top vote getter.
Along with a spot on the East squad, Williams is entered in the All-Star skills challenge, where competitors get to showcase their all-around game.
Williams array of talents were on display in the first half.
He made 12 of 15 shots, including all four of his 3-pointers, and added five assists one on a beautiful, behind-the-back bounce pass to Anderson Varejao and added three steals as the Cavaliers opened a 64-52 lead despite the Suns shooting 65 percent (20-of-31) from the floor.
He s phenomenal and showed why he s an All-Star, James said. He showed why we have 40 wins before the All-Star break. He s probably the biggest reason.