Cleveland looked sluggish through the first few minutes following a West Coast trip, but quickly recovered with a flurry of 3-pointers and stifling defense to beat the Rockets 108-83 Sunday night.
James scored 29 points and Mo Williams added 20 for Cleveland (24-8), which has won four straight and nine of 10. They have won 10 straight at home, the league's longest active winning streak.
"It's tough when you're coming off the West Coast," Williams said. "I don't know why, and I've been in the league seven years. When you're coming off the West Coast, the energy is not there. The third quarter we came out with a lot of energy and got it rolling."
James and Williams combined to make five 3-pointers in less than three minutes early in the third quarter, stretching Cleveland's lead to 68-53. The margin didn't dip below 15 the rest of the way.
Cleveland's defense took it from there, holding the Rockets to a season low in points after Houston raced out to an early 16-4 lead in the first quarter.
Aaron Brooks had 23 points for Houston, but only five in the second half. Trevor Ariza scored 11 points, but went 2 of 10 from the floor and is now mired in a 10-for-48 slump. Ariza injured his shin late in the game and a team spokesman said he was taken for precautionary X-rays. Carl Landry added 11 points.
Even though the Cavaliers were coming off the West Coast swing, Rockets coach Rick Adelman thought his team tired first after playing on consecutive nights.
"Watching some of our guys, we ran out of gas," Adelman said. "We didn't have anything left to respond. I think the energy was really gone at that point."
Tracy McGrady missed his second straight game for the Rockets (18-13), who sent their disgruntled star home prior to Saturday's win at New Jersey. McGrady, working his way back from microfracture surgery on his left knee, is unhappy with his diminished role. The situation is expected to be revisited this week after Houston returned home from the weekend trip.
Two nights after holding the Lakers to 87 points, Cleveland again put on the defensive clamps. Houston made six of its first eight shots and scored 16 points in the first five minutes, then was held to 67 points the rest of the way. Houston shot 33 percent from the floor and had 16 turnovers.
Even more impressive, the Cavaliers allowed just 16 points in the paint.
"We didn't have the juice to answer them," Houston's Shane Battier said. "They opened up that lead and we didn't have the oomph to go back at them."
Battier blamed the league's schedule makers, too.
"We don't make excuses, but I never played a back-to-back game where you play at 7:30 the night before and play at 6 o'clock the next day," he said. "It shows the NBA is getting creative with their scheduling, which is kudos to them."
Shaquille O'Neal grabbed a season-high 11 rebounds and scored 13 points for Cleveland, including two on a nifty dunk early in the fourth quarter off a fastbreak that followed a few dribbles from the 7-footer. More importantly, O'Neal and the rest of Cleveland's big men held Houston centers Chuck Hayes and David Andersen to a combined 2 of 12 from the field.
"[Defense] is our staple. That's something I've been stressing for the last few weeks," James said. "We'll make our mark with the defensive end, then the offense will take care of itself because we have enough scorers. Defensively when we're flying around like we have been the last two weeks, it shows. The result is in the final score."
- Cleveland shot 7 of 17 on 3-pointers after starting the night 1 of 8.
- Zydrunas Ilgauskas had 12 points and now needs four more to tie Brad Daugherty for second place on the Cavaliers' all-time scoring list with 10,389. James is the franchise scoring leader.
- The Rockets beat the Cavaliers in Houston, 95-85 on Dec. 9.
- Cleveland had lost 10 of 13 meetings to Houston since James was drafted in 2003.