James scored 28 points Saturday night after missing a game with a sprained right ankle, leading the Cavaliers to a 98-84 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.
James missed Cleveland's 101-95 loss in Seattle on Thursday after injuring the ankle the previous night against Portland. James, the NBA's leading scorer, went through a hard workout on the court Saturday and the Cavaliers announced he would start about 45 minutes before the game.
"I knew I could go out there and give my best effort," James said. "I'm not as strong as I want to be right now, but I knew I could play well. My ankle's been better, but it didn't get worse, and that's a good thing."
Cleveland (26-20) is 0-6 this season in games James hasn't played. He missed five games in late November and early December after spraining his left index finger. The Cavaliers were 9-3 during the previous two years when James was sidelined.
James' return provided even more bad news for the Clippers, who played their fourth straight game without leading scorers Corey Maggette and Chris Kaman. Both were out with the flu and Los Angeles dressed nine players.
"Cleveland is a good team and they have a great player," Clippers forward Al Thornton said.
Zydrunas Ilgauskas had 22 points and 13 rebounds for Cleveland, his 21st double-double this season. Ilgauskas was especially effective in the fourth quarter, when he scored eight points, making all four shots with eight rebounds.
"Sometimes Z is unbelievable," James said. "When he wants the ball in the post we give it to him, and when he wants the ball on the perimeter we give it to him."
The Clippers' lack of depth proved to be a problem, just as it was Friday night in Minnesota, when they led by four at halftime but scored 27 points in the final two quarters of a 104-83 loss.
Los Angeles took a 47-42 lead late in the second quarter. Daniel Gibson's 3-pointer cut the lead to two at halftime.
While the Clippers were short-handed, the Cavaliers were coming off a three-game trip in which the played the Lakers, Trail Blazers and SuperSonics.
"That's a tough ballgame to play coming off a West Coast trip," Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said. "They have a lot of guys out and sometimes it's human nature to let your guard down. I thought in the first half they did what they had to do to make this a game."
With the score tied at 53 midway through the third period, a tip-in and a jumper by Ira Newble, a tip-in by Ilgauskas and a jump shot by James sparked an 8-2 run, and Cleveland was never challenged. An end-to-end drive and layup by James stretched the lead to 72-63 with just over two minutes left.
Ilgauskas' tip-in of James' missed layup pushed the lead to 79-69 with 9:28 left in the game.
Thornton led the Clippers with 23 points while Cuttino Mobley scored 19.
Drew Gooden added 14 points and 12 boards, while James had 11 rebounds.
"We played well in the first half," Thornton said. "We took some bad shots in the second half and that kind of got us out of sync."
The Cavaliers, whose biggest lead was 14 late in the game, outrebounded the Clippers, 50-35.
The Clippers are on a seven-game trip, their longest of the season. They also play in New York, Boston, Toronto, Philadelphia and Milwaukee.
- The Cavaliers are playing without Anderson Varejao (sprained left ankle) and Sasha Pavlovic (sprained left foot).
- Cleveland hosts Boston on Tuesday night.
- The Clippers haven't won two straight games since opening the season with a four-game winning streak.
- Thornton was 1-of-15 from the field against Minnesota. He was 7-of-21 against the Cavaliers.