<
>

McInnis leads Cavs in return from ankle injury

4/10/2004

CLEVELAND (AP) -- With two games remaining, the Cleveland Cavaliers still have their eyes on the playoffs -- next season's.

Jeff McInnis scored 16 points, LeBron James added 11 assists and Cleveland snapped a seven-game losing streak, 91-80 over the Miami Heat on Saturday night.

The Cavaliers won for just the second time in 13 games, a slide that began when McInnis injured his right shoulder on March 16 and resulted in Cleveland dropping from NBA playoff contention.

"If we would have had him we'd be in, no doubt," Cavs forward Carlos Boozer said. "We'd be right in the thick of it. But we showed a lot of character tonight. Now we want to finish strong and go into next season on a steamroll."

McInnis had also missed Friday night's loss in Miami with a sprained left ankle. But with their floor leader back, the Cavaliers again played with intensity.

They also wanted to pay back Miami, whose players may have gotten a little carried away with one-on-one moves and celebrating during the Heat's 106-91 win on Friday night.

"They were doing too much showboating last night," said McInnis, who added eight assists and singled out his good friend, Rafer Alston, as one of the Heat's culprits of over-exuberance. "We didn't like that."

Boozer added 14 rebounds -- 10 in the third quarter -- and Tony Battie had 12 points and 10 rebounds as Cleveland notched its 33rd win, the club's most since winning 47 in 1997-98.

Another victory would double the Cavaliers' win total from last season when they went 17-65. The 16-game turnaround is the second biggest in team history.

"If we can double our wins, that would be great," James said.
"Next year, we'll be in the playoffs."

Rookie Dwyane Wade scored 17 points for playoff-bound Miami,
which sat Lamar Odom (bruised quadriceps) and Caron Butler (bruised
left knee) for most of the second half.

Miami, which entered the night in the No. 5 spot in the East,
has two games left. The Heat are 15-4 since March 2.

Coach Stan Van Gundy didn't like anything about the way his team
played.

"That was just a horrible, horrible performance," he said.

Heat forward Brian Grant couldn't argue with the assessment.

"This was a wake-up call," he said. "Even though we have a
very good offensive team we have to improve our defensive
intensity."

The Cavaliers had regressed without McInnis, whose arrival in a
January trade stabilized an unsettled position and legitimized
Cleveland's playoff push.

They were lost without him, but with McInnis back, Cleveland's
offense clicked again and the Cavs opened an early lead and pulled
away.

"He leads the charge and we all follow," Cavs coach Paul Silas
said. "It's just impossible to play our system without his
production. It's a whole different ballgame."

The Cavaliers' pushed a 13-point halftime advantage to 17 on
McInnis' 3-pointer midway through the third period, and they went
up 68-46 when McInnis fed James on a fast break for a thunderous
dunk.

For the first time since their McInnis-less descent began, the
Cavaliers led at halftime. Cleveland's 52-39 lead was its first
after 24 minutes in 12 games.

Cleveland opened the second quarter with an 11-0 run, capped by
Kedrick Brown's 3-pointer and highlighted by one of James' most
powerful dunks this season.

After taking a pass near the foul line, Cleveland's rookie drove
the lane, wound up and delivered a ferocious windmill dunk over
Miami's Samaki Walker.

James finished with 10 points on 4-of-11 shooting.

Game notes
As well as James has played this season, Silas said there's
plenty of room for improvement in the 19-year-old's game --
particularly on defense. James knows it, too. "I have to work on
everything," he said. ... The Cavaliers, who have seen a 58
percent increase in home attendance, will thank their fans by
giving away nearly $230,000 in merchandise at Monday night's game
against Milwaukee. ... Gund Arena was sold out for the 15th time
this season. The Cavs played in front of a full house twice last
season. ... Alston has made a 3-pointer in 46 consecutive games --
the league's longest current streak.