- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 14, 2009

SACRAMENTO, CALIF. (AP) - The Cleveland Cavaliers are champions again, though not playing championship-caliber basketball on the defensive end.

Having LeBron James allows them to overcome those defensive lapses.

James scored 51 points, including six in overtime, and the Cavaliers clinched their first Central Division title since 1976 on Friday night with a 126-123 victory over the Sacramento Kings in the finale of a perfect three-game trip.

“Right now I am allowing LeBron’s minutes to get out of hand because we are not good defensively,” Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. “We cannot win without LeBron, nor can we win without defending. He has been our safety valve and we’ve outscored our opponents these last three games.

“We have good players. All of them know how to play defense. They have been doing it most of the year. We have to hold ourselves accountable on that end if we expect to be a championship-contending team.”

Although James failed to extend his triple-double streak to four games, he was clearly the difference, scoring a combined 22 points in the fourth quarter and overtime. He added nine assists while falling five points short of his career high.

“It’s been 33 years, way before I was born,” James said. “We put up a banner, that’s Central Division champs. That’s something we can be very proud of doing.”

Anderson Varejao had 18 points and 12 rebounds for Cleveland, which secured just the second division title in franchise history. Wally Szczerbiak scored 12 points and Mo Williams had 10 as the Cavs won their fourth straight and eighth in nine games to tie the Lakers for the NBA’s best record at 52-13.

The win gave Cleveland a sweep of its three-game road trip.

Kevin Martin scored 34 points for the Kings, who fell to 0-25 against the Eastern Conference. Bobby Jackson and Jason Thompson both had 19 points and Will Solomon scored 18.

James scored 16 points in the fourth quarter to rally the Cavaliers from a 14-point deficit. Trailing since early in the third quarter, James stole a pass and was fouled by Martin. He made one of two free throws, tying the game at 116 with 24 seconds left.

“LeBron James was phenomenal again. We’ve all seen that show before. He put on another one tonight,” Sacramento interim coach Kenny Natt said. “I wasn’t looking at the points he scored, I just know that LeBron’s going to have the ball. He’s going to take control of the team and put the team on his shoulders and carry them.”

76ers 104, Bulls 101

At Philadelphia, Thaddeus Young scored a career-high 31 points and Andre Iguodala had 25 in the final NBA game at the 42-year-old Spectrum.

The Sixers, who normally play across the street at the Wachovia Center, gave a capacity crowd one more thriller to remember in their first game here since April 19, 1996.

Celtics 102, Grizzlies 92

At Boston, Leon Powe scored a career-high 30 points with 11 rebounds, and Ray Allen scored 22 points.

Rudy Gay scored 26, O.J. Mayo had 21 and Marc Gasol had 11 points and 15 rebounds for the Grizzlies, who have lost four consecutive games.

Rockets 91, Bobcats 86

At Charlotte, N.C., Yao Ming scored 23 points, Ron Artest hit the go-ahead jumper and made the key defensive play, and Houston recovered after blowing a late lead.

Gerald Wallace scored 17 points and Raja Bell added 16 for the cold-shooting Bobcats, who have lost two straight following their team-record, six-game winning streak.

Pistons 99, Raptors 95, OT

At Toronto, Richard Hamilton had 24 points and 16 assists, Antonio McDyess added 16 points and 13 rebounds, and Detroit swept the season series from the Raptors for the first time since 1997-98.

Chris Bosh had 27 points and 10 rebounds, and Jose Calderon added 20 points and 11 assists, but it wasn’t enough for the Raptors, who have lost seven straight.

Hornets 95, Bucks 86

At Milwaukee, Chris Paul scored 30 points and Rasual Butler hit a pair of key 3-pointers down the stretch to help New Orleans win for the ninth time in 10 games.

Richard Jefferson scored 27 for the Bucks, who have lost five of their past six.

Warriors 119, Mavericks 110

At Oakland, Calif., Stephen Jackson scored 31 points, Monta Ellis had season highs of 29 points and 11 rebounds, and Golden State put a dent into Dallas’ playoff run.

Jason Kidd recorded his second triple-double of the season with 21 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds for the Mavericks, who had a three-game winning streak snapped.

Trail Blazers 109, Nets 100

At Portland, Ore., Brandon Roy scored 31 points, including 24 in the second half, to rally the Trail Blazers.

Devin Harris scored 27 points for the New Jersey, which has lost five of seven.

Knicks 102, Timberwolves 94

At Minneapolis, Nate Robinson scored 25 points and Wilson Chandler had 24 points in New York’s third straight victory.

Ryan Gomes tied his season high with 28 points and Sebastian Telfair added 22 for Minnesota, which fell to 2-13 without Al Jefferson after turning the ball over 19 times.

Magic 112, Wizards 103

At Washington, Dwight Howard had 18 points, 13 rebounds and a career-high seven assists, and Orlando’s depth wore down the undermanned Wizards.

Antawn Jamison scored a season-high 36 points for the Wizards, who played without Caron Butler (hamstring) in the second half.

Hawks 101, Pacers 87

At Atlanta, Joe Johnson scored 30 points for the third straight game, and Al Horford finished with 17 points and 15 rebounds in the Hawks’ fourth straight victory.

T.J. Ford, who scored Indiana’s last 14 points, finished with 29. Troy Murphy pulled down 14 rebounds _ all defensive _ for the Pacers, who have lost two straight and three of four.

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