CLEVELAND -- LeBron James' only action in the fourth quarter Monday night came on the bench during timeouts, when he played to the crowd and danced alongside his teammates.
The Knicks have gutted their roster over the last couple of years in hopes of being far enough under the salary cap to offer a pair of max contracts this summer, when James can lead an All-Star cast of free agents.
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Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni was asked if all the losing, and the embarrassing beatings like the one sustained Monday, is worth it.
"I'll tell you next year," he said. "Right now it's pretty frustrating for everybody, but it's what we're doing."
James had 22 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, and Cleveland used a 74-point first half to hammer the Knicks in their first game since learning Shaquille O'Neal will miss the rest of the regular season.
O'Neal had surgery on his injured right thumb Monday morning and is expected to miss two months. The team is hopeful he will return for at least part of the playoffs.
The Cavs didn't need O'Neal -- or James -- to pummel New York. James sat the entire fourth quarter as Cleveland built a 49-point lead in the second half.
The 31-point margin of victory is the largest this season for Cleveland, which equaled a season high with its 74-point first half -- set three weeks ago against the Knicks. The Cavaliers outrebounded New York 60-31 in winning their eighth straight in the series, allowing James to goof off and put J.J. Hickson in a headlock during a timeout in the fourth quarter.
"They have a lot of fun here at home," New York's Tracy McGrady said. "It's tough to beat them at home. I'd have fun, too. If it's that easy, why not have fun? I don't blame them for celebrating. We have to do something about it."
James, who entered averaging 35.4 points, 7.9 assists and 7.1 rebounds in his last seven games against New York, didn't have one of his trademark New York performances. He didn't need it.
Antawn Jamison had 17 points and 12 rebounds, while Anderson Varejao had 14 points and 10 boards. Hickson had 17 points and nine rebounds, and Delonte West scored 15 points as the Cavaliers exposed New York's defensive inefficiencies.
James, who dismissed a question about joining the Knicks next season, was asked if he could play for a team that didn't care about defense.
"I'm a winner. I just want to win," he said. "I've yet to play for a team that doesn't like defense, but that's not about the team, it's about individuals first. Individuals have to want the responsibility to guard the guy in front of them and then it makes it a lot easier as a team."
Cleveland fans are tired of hearing about the possibility of James bolting Cleveland for New York this summer. That's why the sellout crowd at the Q roared when two small boys held up a sign in the fourth quarter: "Hey NY, Get Your Own King."
"They outclassed us, outmatched us, outplayed us," D'Antoni said. "They're just a lot better than us."
Hickson started at center in place of O'Neal in a game that looked more like a pickup contest in the park as the Cavaliers raced through New York's porous defense, turning the game into a dunk contest.
West threw up an alley-oop pass to James in the second quarter while getting fouled. James caught the pass with his back to the basket, lowered the ball between his knees and slammed down a reverse dunk. The basket didn't count because of the foul, but that mattered little to James, who giggled in amazement while watching the replay on the scoreboard.
James said the dunk ranks in his personal top 10, even if it didn't count in the game.
"It counts. It has to count," he said. "That was good. It was one of my best ones I've had."
The foul on West gave Cleveland two free throws and possession. He inbounded to Varejao, got the ball back immediately and dunked over the 6-foot-8 McGrady to put Cleveland ahead 61-41 with 4:26 to play in the half. West, who is five inches shorter, flexed and growled upon landing, drawing a smirk from McGrady.
During one loose ball in the second half, James and West were so eager to get down the floor and start a fast break, both failed to grab the ball while racing past it.
Cleveland scored 18 of its 38 points in the first quarter on dunks and layups. The Cavaliers scored 66 points in the paint against a New York defense that allows an average of 46.1 per game.
The Cavaliers have always been defensive-minded, but have now broken 100 points in four straight games and 10 of their last 13.
"We're in a flow," James said. "We've got guys who can make shots, we've got guys who want to play defense. It's easy for us on the offensive end after that."
|LeBron finishes with 22 points, seven boards and seven assists in just three quarters. (Getty Images)|
|New York (20-39)||26||22||11||34||93|
|Cleveland (47-14) «||38||36||27||23||124|
|NY:B. Walker 21 Pts
NY:D. Lee 10 Reb
NY:T. Douglas 6 Ast
|CLE:L. James 22 Pts
CLE:A. Jamison 12 Reb
CLE:M. Williams 10 Ast
|Players of the Game|
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|D. Gallinari, SF||36||5-13||5-5||4||1||2||17|
|D. Lee, C||33||4-12||2-3||10||4||2||10|
|A. Harrington, PF||31||7-15||1-2||3||1||2||18|
|T. McGrady, SG||24||3-7||0-0||2||5||3||6|
|S. Rodriguez, PG||22||3-9||2-3||0||5||2||9|
|B. Walker, SG||35||9-14||1-2||5||1||3||21|
|T. Douglas, PG||21||2-6||1-2||3||6||2||6|
|E. House, SG||20||1-8||0-0||2||3||0||2|
|J. Bender, SF||16||2-4||0-0||2||0||1||4|
|C. Duhon, PG||Did Not Play|
|W. Chandler, SF||Did Not Play|
|E. Curry, C||Did Not Play|
|J. Giddens, SG||Did Not Play|
|C. Mobley, SG||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|
|L. James, SF||31||9-17||3-5||7||7||0||22|
|A. Jamison, PF||30||8-14||0-1||12||2||2||17|
|A. Parker, SG||27||3-4||0-0||5||1||1||8|
|M. Williams, PG||25||2-8||2-3||3||10||2||7|
|J. Hickson, PF||23||6-7||5-7||9||2||1||17|
|D. West, SG||22||6-10||3-5||3||3||0||15|
|L. Powe, PF||18||3-6||2-4||4||0||3||8|
|J. Moon, SF||18||2-4||0-0||4||1||3||4|
|A. Varejao, C||16||7-9||0-0||10||2||1||14|
|J. Williams, SF||12||3-6||0-0||1||3||3||7|
|D. Jackson, PF||9||0-1||1-2||1||0||2||1|
|D. Green, SF||9||2-4||0-0||1||0||3||4|
|S. O'Neal, C||Did Not Play|
|D. Gibson, PG||Did Not Play|
|S. Telfair, PG||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|