CLEVELAND, Jan. 24 (Ticker) -- LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers took advantage of the Indiana Pacers, whose troubles off the court have spilled onto it.

James scored 12 of his 23 points in a decisive third quarter as the Cleveland Cavaliers posted a 96-66 triumph that handed the Pacers their fourth straight loss.

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The Pacers have been dragged down by the saga involving enigmatic forward Ron Artest, who in early December publicly demanded to be traded from the organization that stood by him after last season's riot in Detroit.

The Pacers put him on the inactive list while seeking a trade. After winning five of its first six games without him, Indiana has gone just 6-12 since.

"Anytime you lose a player of (Artest's) caliber it's going to hurt, but they've done a great job of trying to get past it," James said. "You have to give (the Pacers) credit for what they have done for the past two years."

Earlier Tuesday, the former Defensive Player of the Year reportedly was headed to Sacramento for three-time All-Star Peja Stojakovic. However, Artest reportedly nixed the deal, creating yet another distraction.

"I don't care about any distractions about any potential trades or anything else," said Pacers star Jermaine O'Neal, who left in the fourth quarter with what might be a serious groin injury. "Anybody who says it's distracting them has to be a better professional. This is the hand we have been dealt and we have to deal with it."

A befuddled, struggling squad took the court and played well enough to trail just 42-38 at halftime against one of the tougher home teams in the league. But for the third straight game, Indiana fell apart in the third quarter.

After the Pacers and Cavaliers traded baskets early on, Cleveland went on a 23-2 burst. James scored 12 points and Aleksandar Pavlovic added five of his season-high 14 during the run.

"We had a lot of good looks, we just didn't hit the shots," said Pacers coach Rick Carlisle, who saw his team held to a season low in points.

Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who collected 18 points and nine rebounds, capped the charge with a pair of free throws that made it 65-42 with 2:23 to go.

In its first home game after a 1-5 road trip, Cleveland never was threatened thereafter in its best defensive performance since holding Charlotte to 66 points on December 5, 2000.

"I don't think we have had a defensive performance like that this season," James said. "We came in with the mind-set to get stops. That was the key to the game for us."

"For us to get by (Indiana) the way we did tonight was a good thing for us," Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. "We increased our effort in the second half, especially defensively."

The Pacers were outscored, 27-13, in the third quarter Wednesday and have yielded a 77-41 margin in the third period of their last three contests.

"We had a lot of good looks and we couldn't hit a bull in the (rear) with a bass fiddle," Carlisle said. "It was one of those nights early and then it spiraled. It was rough, but I thought we played a good first half.

"We've got to be honest; we're not a very good basketball team right now."

To make matters worse, O'Neal hobbled to the locker room with 9 1/2 minutes remaining after landing awkwardly going after a rebound. The oft-injured star said he felt a "pop" in his left groin.

"I'm concerned about it," O'Neal said. "I heard it pop. Hopefully, if it is a tear, it's a low-grade tear that doesn't need surgery and I don't have to miss many games."