for this game

James helps Cavaliers beat Nets 94-86

Jan 2, 2010 - 10:01 PM By BRIAN MAHONEY AP Basketball Writer

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.(AP) -- One of the largest crowds of the season showed up at the Izod Center, with many fans here to see LeBron James and Shaquille O'Neal.

The Cleveland Cavaliers hope some of them noticed Anderson Varejao.

James had 28 points, nine rebounds and seven assists, Varejao provided a boost on both ends, and the Cavaliers beat the New Jersey Nets 94-86 on Saturday for their seventh straight victory.

"I thought Andy's energy was terrific in the second half," Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. "His defense is always great, his energy was terrific and he sparked us to this win."

Varejao had 15 points and 12 rebounds. Brown said before the game that Varejao should be considered for the All-Defensive team, and his Brazilian reserve forward then helped hold Yi Jianlian to 11 points on 2-of-13 shooting after he averaged 22.5 points in his previous four games.

"I'm amazed on how he's able to keep that level of play up," James said. "He plays hurt and he plays injured and to keep that level up to play every single game is very impressive."

Mo Williams added 18 points for the Cavaliers, who have won 12 of 13. They have defeated some of the NBA's top teams during their winning streak, but struggled against the league's worst for much of this game, leading by only four with 4 1/2 minutes left.

James then put it away, throwing down a dunk and setting up Daniel Gibson for a 3-pointer and an 86-77 lead with 3:05 remaining. Anthony Parker then went to the floor to come up with a loose ball and threw it ahead to a streaking James, who somehow managed to score while two Nets were trying to foul him. His three-point play made it 89-77 with 2:40 to go.

"I think we played very hard," Nets coach Kiki Vandeweghe said. "I think that they showed why they, right now, are playing the best basketball of anybody in the NBA."

O'Neal finished with 12 points and nine boards for the Cavs, who outrebounded the Nets 52-38 and had 16 offensive rebounds.

Devin Harris scored 22 points and Brook Lopez 20 for the Nets, who started strong before the Cavs, who lead the league in field goal percentage defense, began to control the NBA's worst offensive team.

The Nets fell to 3-30, but the good news is it's finally 2010, when they're hoping to be able to transform the franchise. They could have the most money to offer this summer's free agent class, expected to be highlighted by James. They hope that - along with his friendship with rapper and part-owner Jay-Z, plus a planned new arena in Brooklyn - could get them in the running for him or one of the other All-Stars who could be available.

The Cavaliers wore their home white uniforms and enjoyed plenty of support, with the first visit this season from James and New Jersey native O'Neal producing an announced crowd of 17,569 at the usually attendance-challenged Izod Center. James treated the fans to some powerful dunks, nifty passes and impressive blocks, drawing oohs and aahs sprinkled in with a couple of boos.

Varejao's play is far less spectacular, but remains crucial for the Cavs. He came in leading in plus/minus ratio, with the Cavs outscoring teams by 298 points when he was in the game, and on Wednesday he broke a 101-all tie against Atlanta by hitting his first career 3-pointer with 17 seconds left. He says he's been getting the attention his team thinks he deserves.

"Other coaches, they play against us, they come to me and say, 'Man, great job, you're doing good,"' Varejao said. "So this is good for me. That helps me, makes me feel good."

The Cavaliers lead the NBA in first-quarter scoring, but the Nets were the ones who started quickly Saturday. They built a nine-point lead midway through the quarter, shot 52 percent and took a 26-19 advantage into the second. James, whose late arrival on the second bus cut into his warm-up time, took only two shots and scored five points in the opening 12 minutes.

James was much more aggressive after returning from his rest early in the second, scoring 10 points in the period and helping the Cavs grab a 44-43 halftime lead.

New Jersey shot only 4 of 20 in the third, but Cleveland failed to pull away, leading only 69-61 heading into the final quarter. Williams and Varejao hit the first two baskets of the fourth as the Cavaliers finally opened a double-digit lead for the first time.

NOTES: The only larger crowd for a Nets home game this season was Wednesday, when an announced 17,575 came to watch them beat the Knicks. ... Nets F Jarvis Hayes was expected to return after straining his left hamstring in the season opener and missing 31 games, but Vandeweghe said they decided to wait until he had a couple more practices.