9:30 PM ET, February 27, 2009
AT&T Center, San Antonio, TX
SAN ANTONIO -- LeBron James hung a towel around his neck and relaxed on the bench the entire fourth quarter. The San Antonio Spurs were still without their biggest star, and the Cleveland Cavaliers no longer needed their own.
• The Cavaliers improved to 19-4 against the Western Conference this season.
• Despite sitting out the entire fourth quarter, LeBron James finished with 30 points and 14 rebounds -- his fifth 30-point, 10-rebound game of the season.
• The Spurs have lost five of their last six games vs. the Cavaliers.
• San Antonio ended its six-game home win streak with the loss.
-- ESPN research
Pouring in 30 points and grabbing 14 rebounds before taking it easy after the third quarter, James and the Cavaliers shook off a terrible start to a four-game road swing with a 97-86 win over the Spurs, who again kept Tim Duncan in street clothes.
One night after Cleveland lost Ben Wallace to a broken leg and shot a season-worst 34 percent against Houston, the Cavaliers regained the look of an Eastern Conference leader in a flat rematch of the 2007 NBA Finals.
James was 12-of-23 from the floor in 32 minutes. He also had four assists after being shutout in that category Thursday night for the first time in his career.
"That's the best thing about the NBA," James said. "In the NBA you can play as bad as you ever played one night and the NBA schedule allows you to make up for it the next night."
Tony Parker, who averaged 38 points the last two games, was one of four Spurs with 11 points. Duncan missed his third consecutive game for San Antonio with a right quad injury but is expected to return as soon as Sunday.
Delonte West added 17 points and Zydrunas Ilgauskas had 10 for Cleveland, which will resume its four-game road swing Sunday at Atlanta. They'll do so without Wallace, who is expected to miss four to six weeks after breaking his right fibula in a 93-74 loss to the Rockets on Thursday.
Parker was just 3-of-16 from the floor, and the Spurs had few other scorers to turn to with Duncan and Manu Ginobili on the bench in street clothes.
Afterward, Parker said he wanted his big man back.
"I wanted Timmy to play," Parker said. "I was worried in a game like that everybody would run out of gas because the last two games we spent so much energy in a back-to-back, especially coming off a long road trip. I was just scared we didn't have enough in the tank, and it showed tonight."
Duncan hasn't played since being unable to shake a stiff knee just before Tuesday's victory over Dallas. He showed no signs of pain while shooting jumpers at a morning workout, and doctors gave the green light to Duncan's wishes to return Friday.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich wasn't on board, though. Flatly saying that Duncan is "too important to us," Popovich chose to rest him another night and said his big man would probably return Sunday at Portland or Monday at the Los Angeles Clippers.
It will still be at least another week before the Spurs get back Ginobili, who continues to sit out with a stress reaction in his right ankle.
Shorthanded all week, Parker scored a combined 76 points to carry the Spurs in victories over Dallas and Portland. But Cleveland wasn't a one-man job.
The Cavs pulled away early with a 13-0 run in the first quarter fueled, in part, by James running away for an open-court dunk that had the sold-out crowd jumping from their seats and their camera flashes twinkling before James even lifted off.
Five turnovers in the first quarter by the typically careful Spurs -- their 12.1 turnover average entering the game ranked second -- helped Cleveland build a 27-13 lead. It ended with William hitting a buzzer-beating jumper and Spurs forward Bruce Bowen winding up and spiking the ball down in frustration.
James closed the first quarter with 15 points and an assist -- something he didn't record Thursday against Houston for the first time in his 494-game NBA career.
Cleveland coach Mike Brown was more relieved by the rebounds James pulled down.
"LeBron was big for us on the boards," Brown said. "That was good to see."
The Spurs closed the gap to seven at halftime, only to offer watch Cleveland's lead balloon to 21 at the end of the third quarter.
"I thought we dug ourselves out of it," Popovich said. "At that point we played hard, played well, and then LeBron took it away with those three 3s to start the third quarter. He's great. And that was that."
James sat out to start the fourth and didn't return. He didn't need to.
He instead watched his teammates put the finishing touches on improving to 19-4 against the Western Conference, the best mark of any team in the East. The Cavaliers also did it in their usually convincing fashion, winning their 32nd game by at least 10 points.
Daniel Gibson added 10 points off the bench for the Cavaliers.
Roger Mason had 10 points for the Spurs, who had their four-game win streak snapped and were denied a three-game home sweep.
It must be TGIF for Cleveland: The Cavaliers are 12-0 when playing Friday, the only day they have an unblemished record. ... Even though Ginobili isn't practicing for the Spurs, Popovich said his standout sixth man is getting plenty of time on the treadmill. Ginobili was expected to miss up to three weeks when he was diagnosed Feb. 19. "By the time it's over, he'll probably lose 30 pounds," Popovich joked before the game.
Team Stat Comparison
|FGM-FGA||36-83 (.434)||33-79 (.418)|
|3PM-3PA||7-21 (.333)||4-12 (.333)|
|FTM-FTA||18-23 (.783)||16-20 (.800)|
|Fast Break Points||15||14|
|Fouls (Tech/Flagrant)||25 (0/0)||20 (1/0)|