- The Washington Times - Monday, April 30, 2007

The Cleveland Cavaliers are still LeBron James’ team, but at least at the moment he has a strong supporting cast.

Guard Larry Hughes scored 27 points in Game 1. Forward Drew Gooden was the key player in Game 2, finishing with 24 points and 14 rebounds.

And 7-foot-3 center Zydrunas Ilgauskas is having an excellent series, scoring 24 points on 10-for-13 shooting in Saturday’s Game 3.

“Last year, especially in the playoffs, if LeBron wasn’t getting it done, we weren’t getting it done as a team,” Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. “It takes some of the pressure and load off of him and our team when other guys are able to step up. The offense is evolving to where not every play is called for LeBron. Sometimes LeBron gets action on the backside.”

James has been outstanding as a playmaker, drawing extra attention from the defense and finding open teammates. Ilgauskas has stepped out and made open jumpers. The same is true for Hughes and Sasha Pavlovic, whose 3-pointer off James’ drive-and-dish clinched the Cavaliers’ Game 3 win.

“We do a lot at practice knowing I am going to receive double-teams and triple-teams sometimes. How do we react to it?” James said. “Drew had a great cut baseline last night to put us up five. [Ilgauskas] was able to find a comfort zone out there, and I was able to find him for a jump shot. And Sasha hit one of the biggest shots of the season, making the corner 3. Guys are making themselves available and knocking them down.”

Nothing special for Hughes

Hughes said he will take no extra satisfaction if the Cavaliers close a series sweep on his former homecourt. The 6-5 guard left Washington after the 2004-05 season for a five-year deal worth a guaranteed $12 million a season, with incentives that could push the deal to $14 million annually.

“Not really,” he said. “These are definitely my friends here. This is where just the basketball game comes into play. There is nothing extra going on.”

Hughes averaged 22.0 points and 2.9 steals a game and was named to the NBA All-Defensive first team in his final season with Washington.

“It was a good experience for me,” he said. “It allowed me to be who I am and realize what I can do. I have a lot of thanks for the guys. That’s why I play the way I do.”

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