for this game

James, Hughes team up as Cavaliers win fifth straight

Mar 12, 2007 - 2:35 AM CLEVELAND (Ticker) -- While LeBron James has been lighting up the league, Larry Hughes sparked the surging Cleveland Cavaliers this time around.

Hughes had 23 points and seven assists and James scored 26 points as the Cavaliers matched a season high with their fifth straight win, an easy 99-88 victory over the plummeting Indiana Pacers.

Underachieving for most of the season, Cleveland (38-25) finally has hit its stride and remained two games back of Detroit (39-22) for the first place in the Central Division and the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

"We have a better understanding of what our job is and what we need to do to get the win," Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said. "It was one of those games in which we could have used a million excuses in the world: coming off a back-to-back, losing an hour, time change, so on and so forth. But we came in and took care of business."

James had led the Cavaliers to wins in seven of 10 games since the All-Star break. Maligned for his uninspired play and Cleveland's inconsistency, James has been on fire after the midseason showcase, averaging 32.8 points.

However, James pointed to his improved defense as his most important contribution.

"Defensively, I've tried to play as hard as I can," James said. "If I play hard, my teammates definitely will follow me on the defensive end."

On Sunday, he shot 10-of-22 from the field, including 2-of-6 on 3-pointers. But it was Hughes' energy that boosted the Cavaliers, who led by as many as 26 points in the second half.

In his second season with Cleveland, Hughes has battled injuries and inconsistency. But he started at point guard on Sunday and looked exceedingly comfortable. Hughes shot 8-of-15 from the floor, including 2-of-3 from the arc.

"I've played the point and I've always handled the ball," Hughes said. "I definitely understand the buzz because it's new, since I've been here. But this is something I'm used to. I like to handle the ball and make plays."

Trailing by 22 points with 8:15 left in the fourth quarter, the Pacers went on a 17-4 run to make it 91-82 with 2:29 remaining. But Indiana was playing without All-Star forward Jermaine O'Neal (knee) and got no closer.

"We knew before the game that Jermaine wasn't going to play," Brown said. "It's good to know that, when the other team's main guy is out, we still were focused enough to come in and do what we needed to do to get the win."

Pacers coach Rick Carlisle did not want to used O'Neal's absence as an excuse.

"We've got enough to win," Carlisle said. "There's no doubt in anyone's mind, no doubt in my mind. We just need to put together a great game to do it. Unfortunately, it's been a while since we've been able to win one, but I've got all the confidence in the world that we've got enough in terms of talent, players, experience to get it done."

Point guard Jamaal Tinsley returned from a one-game suspension for conduct detrimental to the team and scored just four points on 2-of-7 shooting for Indiana, which has lost a season-high nine straight games. It is Indiana's longest skid since the 1988-89 campaign.

"It's real low," Pacers forward Danny Granger said. "It's nine games now and we're trying to stop it. Not since I have been playing basketball have I had a losing streak like this."

Insult was added to injury for Indiana when Cleveland center Anderson Varejao misfired on a 3-pointer at the buzzer with the game already in hand.

"I'm not sure Anderson is used to having the ball as the buzzer is going off," Brown said. "All he can do is apologize for it and live and learn."

Varejao's superstar teammate was not thrilled about it.

"I wasn't happy either. We're not that type of team," James said. "He knows not to do that again. Simple as that. He had to learn from that. You never want to do that. We're up by 11 points and you don't want to show off. He definitely made a mistake and he learned from it."

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