Cavaliers 101, Bobcats 97


CHARLOTTE, N.C. – LeBron James scored 35 points, including five free throws down the stretch, to help the Cleveland Cavaliers hold off the Charlotte Bobcats 101-97.

James, who was 13-for-24 from the field, added 12 rebounds and eight assists despite playing the final 6 minutes with five fouls. The Cavaliers matched their longest winning streak of the season. Cleveland also won eight straight from Nov. 7-22.

The win reduced Cleveland’s magic number to clinch the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs to four. The Cavaliers lead Washington by 61/2 games with nine games remaining.

The Bobcats went on an 8-0 run to cut a 10-point deficit to 94-92 on Gerald Wallace’s 3-point play with 1:52 left.

On the next possession, James took it strong to the basket, was fouled, and hit two free throws with 1:21 left.

Trailing by three, Wallace missed a contested shot in the lane. James was then fouled, and hit two free throws with 26 seconds left to seal the game.

Ronald Murray and Drew Gooden each had 16 points for the Cavs, who overcame 20 turnovers to improve to 7-0 all-time against Charlotte.

Raymond Felton had 20 points, Jumaine Jones added 17 and Wallace scored 16 for the Bobcats, who were outrebounded 49-34 in losing their second straight game.

James, coming off a 47-point, 12-rebound 10-assist performance in a win Saturday against Miami, left the crowd buzzing with a high-flying, one-handed dunk off an over-the-shoulder feed from Murray early in the second quarter to put Cleveland ahead 36-28. The Cavaliers built an 11-point lead in the period, but Charlotte cut it to 53-49 on Bernard Robinson’s floater in the lane in the final second of the first half.

The Bobcats stuck around, cutting the lead to 69-68 late in the third quarter and to 87-84 on Wallace’s dunk with 6:05 left, seconds after James picked up his fifth foul.

Notes: Bobcats coach Bernie Bickerstaff defended his decision Saturday to waive guard Kareem Rush with nine games left. “When we come to a decision, we make that move regardless of when it is,” he said. “Some team could pick Kareem up at a nominal cost and still have the right (to pick up the option on his contract for next season).” … Bickerstaff, who is also the general manager, said he still hasn’t decided if he’ll return as coach next season. … Cleveland coach Mike Brown is downplaying talk that guard Larry Hughes could return this week from a broken right middle finger. “I don’t want anyone rushing back or cutting their rehab short,” Brown said.

AP-ES-04-02-06 2052EDT