CLEVELAND -- With LeBron James nursing a head cold, two starters out with injuries and his team dragging from a late night of travel from chilled-to-the-bone Chicago, Cavaliers coach Mike Brown had to try something new.
He may have to try it again.
James shook off one of his worst games this season and a blow to his shooting arm to flirt with a triple-double, and the Cavaliers, using a small lineup that had James playing center for a long stretch, extended their home winning streak to 20 by beating the New Orleans Hornets 92-78 on Friday night.
James finished with 29 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists one night after he went 8-of-28 and had eight turnovers in an overtime loss against the Bulls. For most of the second half, James was on the floor with four other guards as Brown went with an undersized lineup that flustered the Hornets and led to the ejections of Chris Paul and James Posey.
"I think the small lineup may have put them in a position they didn't want to be in or expect," James said.
Asked how he liked playing center, James just shook his head.
"Y'all know I'll do anything for my team," he said. "But that will have to be an every once in a while type thing."
Paul explained he was talking to friends sitting courtside when he got thrown out.
"It's funny," he said. "I'm here in Cleveland a lot all summer. The two guys sitting courtside are two guys I'm with pretty often. They asked me what happened. I said, 'They called an offensive foul, ain't that a trip?' The referee heard me tell them that and he threw me out. I ain't got no reason to lie. I didn't say any curse words, but I got ejected. Do you think that's a reason to get ejected from a game?"
The Cavaliers didn't get home until 4 a.m. because of weather delays and were without two starters: center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who missed his seventh straight game with a broken left ankle and guard Delonte West, who broke his right wrist in a wicked fall against the Bulls and could be out for six weeks.
James, though, picked up the slack, as did Pavlovic, who went 4-of-4 on 3-pointers and made a 3 with 3:41 left that slowed a run by the Hornets.
"We needed guys to step up," James said, "and Sasha was ready."
With Ben Wallace still not himself after missing two games because of a stomach virus, Anderson Varejao in foul trouble and Ilgauskas unavailable, Brown inserted a lineup in the third quarter with James surrounded by four of Cleveland's best outside shooters.
The group didn't produce scintillating basketball, but seemed to take the Hornets out of their offensive rhythm.
And James took over, scoring 13 consecutive points in one stretch and 19 of 24 bridging the third and fourth quarters as the Cavaliers kept their distance from the Hornets.
Paul, one of James' best friends, was called for his second technical with 1:10 left and thrown out. A few seconds later, Posey shoved Williams to the floor and was tossed.
Hornets coach Byron Scott was disappointed in his team's performance and lack of poise.
"The true difference between the teams, is the fact that they were playing with a purpose as far as winning the championship and I don't know if we are playing with that same purpose," Scott said. "It is very frustrating, but I told the coaches that I'm not going to lose sleep over guys not giving it everything they've got every single night. That's out of my control. There's nothing I can do about that."
Up by 15 at halftime, Cleveland pushed its lead to 21 in the third after James made a steal and went in for a breakaway dunk to electrify another sellout crowd.
Moments later, though, Cavs fans were holding their breath when James banged the back of his right arm on Tyson Chandler's knee as they fell to the floor. James stayed down for several minutes and the entire Cleveland team came out with trainer Max Benton to check on the injured superstar.
James received treatment during a timeout and came back in wearing a sleeve on his arm. It didn't seem to bother his stroke as he buried three straight jumpers to open the fourth.
"It still hurts," said James, who had a wrap on his arm afterward. "They say it's a funny bone, but it's never ever funny. It hurt too bad."
|The Cavaliers can always rely on their tough defense, as LeBron James and Wally Szczerbiak show here. (AP)|
|New Orleans (23-13)||17||19||22||20||78|
|Cleveland (31-7) «||28||23||17||24||92|
|NO:D. West 23 Pts
NO:T. Chandler 9 Reb
NO:C. Paul 6 Ast
|CLE:L. James 29 Pts
CLE:L. James 14 Reb
CLE:L. James 7 Ast
|Players of the Game|
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|D. West, PF||41||6-16||11-13||5||1||3||23|
|P. Stojakovic, SG||40||5-13||1-1||6||0||1||15|
|C. Paul, PG||40||5-14||8-8||7||6||2||18|
|R. Butler, SG||36||4-8||1-2||3||0||1||10|
|T. Chandler, C||28||1-3||0-2||9||0||4||2|
|J. Posey, SF||29||1-5||2-2||5||3||4||4|
|D. Brown, SG||12||2-6||0-0||3||0||3||4|
|A. Daniels, PG||8||0-0||0-0||0||0||0||0|
|H. Armstrong, PF||5||0-1||0-0||2||1||1||0|
|J. Wright, SF||1||1-1||0-0||0||0||0||2|
|R. Bowen, SF||Did Not Play|
|S. Marks, C||Did Not Play|
|M. Peterson, SG||Did Not Play|
|M. Ely, C||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|
|S. Pavlovic, SG||43||7-10||1-1||6||1||1||19|
|L. James, SF||43||12-24||5-6||14||7||3||29|
|M. Williams, PG||36||4-13||9-11||3||4||4||17|
|A. Varejao, C||23||2-7||0-0||1||1||6||4|
|B. Wallace, C||16||1-1||0-0||8||0||0||2|
|D. Gibson, PG||33||2-10||0-0||3||0||3||6|
|W. Szczerbiak, SF||29||4-6||2-2||4||2||3||14|
|J. Hickson, PF||10||0-4||1-2||3||0||3||1|
|L. Wright, C||3||0-0||0-0||0||0||0||0|
|T. Kinsey, SF||3||0-0||0-0||0||0||1||0|
|Z. Ilgauskas, C||Did Not Play|
|E. Snow, PG||Did Not Play|
|D. West, SG||Did Not Play|
|J. Williams, F||Did Not Play|
|D. Jackson, PF||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|