MINNEAPOLIS -- LeBron James soared through the air and glided down the court with ease on Tuesday night, putting on an ahhh-inducing show that has become his specialty.
All at "80-85 percent."
Two nights after an achy right knee kept him out of the lineup, James returned with 31 points, 12 rebounds and six assists in Cleveland's 101-88 victory over Minnesota, putting the rest of the Eastern Conference on notice that he will be ready come playoff time.
"It's still not 100 percent," James said. "I'd say it's about 80-85 percent now. I still felt it a couple times. ... Just have to keep doing treatment and keep getting healthy, but I felt pretty good."
If he gets that extra 15-20 percent back, look out.
James scored 15 points and grabbed five rebounds in the first quarter, and later added three monster dunks for effect.
Kevin Garnett had 22 points and 12 rebounds and was the only starter in double figures for the lifeless Timberwolves, who were overwhelmed by the tag team of James and Drew Gooden, who had 20 points and 13 rebounds.
The other Wolves starters: Ricky Davis had just nine points on 3-for-11 shooting, Marko Jaric had five points, center Mark Blount four points and one rebound and point guard Mike James was scoreless with one assist.
"These guys are showing who wants to do it and who doesn't," Wolves coach Randy Wittman said. "They're showing who has heart and who doesn't; who can be counted on and who can't."
With the playoffs looming for Cleveland, the wear and tear on James' body has become a hot topic. The Cavs started the night trailing the Pistons by 3½ games for the top seed in the East, making every game down the stretch a crucial one, especially Sunday at Detroit.
But coach Mike Brown also wants to make sure his star is fully rested and ready to go once the postseason starts.
James received treatment for tendinitis the past two days, and some worry that a summer spent playing for the United States at the World Championship may be catching up with him.
"I was able to get a lot of rehab in and I didn't take much banging at all. I just chilled out," James said. "That definitely helped. I just have to keep doing as much rehab as possible and try to get back."
Garnett knows what James is going through, having played in the Olympics and the World Championship.
"Absolutely, especially when you have the responsibility of carrying a team, taking the bulk of the shots, making other guys better," Garnett said.
That's James in a nutshell. It would be hard to find a team that relies more heavily on one player.
His crown may be heavy and his knee may be sore, but King James put on a show on Tuesday night.
James shot 5-of-6 and grabbed five rebounds in the first quarter to set the tone, and was hobbled early in the third after knocking knees with Jaric before showing everyone that there is still plenty of juice left in his legs.
James threw down a fast-break dunk late in the third quarter, then soared through the lane to hammer home an alley-oop pass from Larry Hughes to give Cleveland a 20-point lead.
He punctuated the evening with a steal and swooping windmill dunk 90 seconds into the final period, drawing oohs and ahhs from a Minnesota crowd that got what it paid for.
The Timberwolves had no answer and can all but forget about making the playoffs this year. They trail the Clippers by 5½ games for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West with just eight games to play.
Randy Foye had 18 points and six assists for Minnesota, which fell to 11-23 since Wittman took over for the fired Dwane Casey in January and has frustrated Garnett with the lack of consistency.
"If you lead, they will follow," Garnett said. "If they don't, leave them behind."
|After sitting out a game, LeBron James comes back strong with 31 points and 12 boards. (AP)|
|Cleveland (45-30) «||33||22||25||21||101|
|CLE:L. James 31 Pts
CLE:D. Gooden 13 Reb
CLE:L. Hughes 10 Ast
|MIN:K. Garnett 22 Pts
MIN:K. Garnett 12 Reb
MIN:R. Foye 6 Ast
|Players of the Game|
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|L. James, SF||42||13-24||5-5||12||6||1||31|
|L. Hughes, SG||41||3-10||5-6||3||10||2||11|
|D. Gooden, PF||32||8-11||4-5||13||4||3||20|
|S. Pavlovic, SF||31||5-13||1-2||1||0||3||13|
|Z. Ilgauskas, C||27||4-7||0-0||7||1||4||8|
|A. Varejao, C||27||1-3||5-8||4||1||3||7|
|D. Gibson, PG||17||5-8||0-0||3||0||0||11|
|E. Snow, PG||12||0-1||0-0||2||2||2||0|
|D. Marshall, PF||8||0-4||0-0||2||0||0||0|
|S. Pollard, C||2||0-1||0-0||1||0||0||0|
|S. Brown, SG||1||0-1||0-0||0||0||0||0|
|D. Jones, PG||Did Not Play|
|I. Newble, SF||Did Not Play|
|D. Wesley, SG||Did Not Play|
|D. Jones, PF||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|
|K. Garnett, PF||39||7-13||8-9||12||2||4||22|
|M. Jaric, PG||33||1-3||2-2||5||2||4||5|
|R. Davis, SG||29||3-11||1-2||0||3||3||9|
|M. Blount, C||17||2-6||0-0||1||1||2||4|
|M. James, PG||17||0-4||0-0||1||1||1||0|
|R. Foye, PG||31||6-12||5-5||3||6||2||18|
|R. McCants, SG||25||4-6||3-4||2||4||4||14|
|C. Smith, PF||24||6-13||0-0||7||1||2||12|
|M. Madsen, C||16||0-0||2-2||4||1||2||2|
|T. Hassell, SF||7||1-3||0-0||1||2||0||2|
|J. Reed, SF||2||0-0||0-0||0||0||0||0|
|T. Hudson, PG||Did Not Play|
|B. Wright, SG||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|