Monday, March 15, 2004

James, Cavaliers continue playoff push


Cleveland 107, Indiana 104

The Associated Press

CLEVELAND - LeBron James slipped on an orange No. 23 Cavaliers' throwback jersey - his own.

The rookie's retro look wasn't the only fashion statement in Gund Arena on Sunday. At long last, even the Cavaliers are back in style.

James scored 26 points and forced Ron Artest to take a tough 3-pointer as the final horn sounded, leading the Cavaliers to their sixth straight win, 107-104 Sunday over the Indiana Pacers.

Zydrunas Ilgauskas made two free throws with 36 seconds left and forced a big turnover seconds later for the Cavs, who improved to 10-3 since the All-Star break.

Many of those wins had come against some of the league's weaker teams, but by beating the NBA-leading Pacers, Cleveland strengthened its hold on a playoff spot and legitimized an improbable turnaround season.

"We feel like we're one of the best teams in the East," James said, "and we're proving ourselves."

Sure enough. The Cavs (30-36), who won just 17 games last season, have won six in a row for the first time since Dec. 5-16, 2000. And suddenly, talk of making the playoffs has given way to speculation about whom they'll play.

"I think this win shows that we're a team to be reckoned with," point guard Jeff McInnis said. "We know we can play with anybody that puts an NBA uniform on. But we're not going to get cocky or overconfident, though. We'll just keep going out and doing our thing."

Jermaine O'Neal had 32 points for the Pacers, who had their seven-game winning streak stopped. Indiana lost in Gund Arena for the first time since 1998 after winning 12 in a row.

Both teams played with a playoff-like intensity and performed as if something bigger was on the line.

Fittingly, the see-saw game came down to Indiana's final possession.

With the score at 107-104, Indiana set up for a final play with 4 seconds left, but Artest never got a good look with James in his face and misfired on his 3-pointer as time expired.

"I just fell short," Artest said. "I'm glad I got that shot out of the way now so when the playoffs come and I'm in that situation, I'm sure it will go down."




NCAA TOURNAMENT
Seeds: UK 1, UC 4, XU 7
Daugherty: Bandwagon jumpers look silly now
Seeds are planted, now for the games
Bracket breakdown
Women: UConn passed over for a top spot
Utah State and Colorado head NIT field
Cheer the Turtle: Terrapins win ACC
Remember Baylor?
Tournament Top 5's

LOCAL TOURNAMENT HEADLINES
UC heads north, but not far
Familiar faces square off in Bearcats' 1st-round game
XU gets Louisville in opener
Cardinals seek quick return to pre-injury form
Kentucky hits jackpot with top overall seed
Mountain Hawks, Rattlers no strangers to big-game pressure
SEC tourney goes routinely for Wildcats
Junior Hayes makes a complete recovery
Women's NIT: Miami, Xavier and UC in
Exclusion disappoints Louisville

REDS / BASEBALL
So far, so good for Reds
Inside Reds camp
Vander Wal to rehab with club
Royals getting adjusted to new role as favorite
Dodgers suffer a loss

BENGALS / NFL
Defense remains work in progress
Owens decision expected by Tuesday

PREP SPORTS
MND faces Final 4 for the ages
Prep sports schedules

MORE SPORTS HEADLINES
Golf: Hamilton puts dramatic touch on unlikely win
Earnhardt leaves troubles, field behind
James, Cavaliers continue playoff push
Minus injured Duncan, Spurs stall against Kings
Sports digest
Sports today on TV, radio

THIS WEEK'S SPORTS POLL
Which Xavier win was bigger: UC when the Bearcats were ranked No. 1 or No. 1 St. Joseph's?