Cleveland 104, L.A. Clippers 92

LOS ANGELES, Jan. 13 (AP) -- The Cleveland Cavaliers are approaching the midway point of their season with the best record in the Eastern Conference. LeBron James doesn't feel any pressure.

James scored 28 points and Zydrunas Ilgauskas had 20, leading the Cavaliers to a 104-92 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday night. Eric Snow finished with 18 points, helping improve Cleveland's record to 23-13.

"We've just got to keep playing like we've been playing,'' James said. "We can't let no pressure get to us. We don't believe in pressure as a team. And me being a leader, I don't believe in it, so I kind of keep it away from my teammates. We do an excellent job of taking it game by game and not thinking about the future. We try to approach every game like it's our last.''

The Cavaliers, making the third stop on their seven-game road trip and coming off their most lopsided loss of the season in Phoenix, won for the ninth time in their last 11 games despite the absence of guard Larry Hughes, who was sidelined because of tendinitis in his left quad.

The Clippers, coming off a six-game road trip, got 22 points from reserve forward Corey Maggette. Chris Kaman had 20 points and nine rebounds, and Elton Brand added 16 points and 10 boards.

"The game is reflected right in the stat sheet,'' Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said. "Twenty-two points worth of turnovers just shot us in the foot. They are the best team in the East right now, so they hang around, build their confidence level and catch a run based on our poor shot selection and turnovers to give them a double-digit lead.''

James was 10-for-23 from the field, two nights after attempting a season-high 28 shots in a 109-90 loss at Phoenix. The two-time All-Star, playing to the celebrity-sprinkled sellout crowd of 20,027 throughout the game, brought many of them to their feet with an exaggerated slam dunk that trimmed the Clippers' lead to 44-42 with 2:55 left in the half.

"Any time you get into the open floor in the Staples Center, it's great,'' said James, the MVP of last season's All-Star game. "The fans come to see us. We've got the best road attendance record for an NBA team, so I want to have fun with the fans. I always do. But at the same time, you still want to take care of business. And I tried to do a good job of doing both. I hadn't won in this building in my career, so it was good to finally get one.''

Reserve forward Quinton Ross, one of the Clippers' best defensive players, was a non-factor after picking up three fouls in his first 3+ minutes on the floor. His third foul preceded a pair of free throws by James that gave Cleveland its only lead of the first half, 30-29, with 9+ minutes left in the second quarter.

Ross got his fourth foul trying to defend a 3-point shot from the left corner by Damon Jones, who converted all three free throws with 1.7 seconds left in the third quarter to increase Cleveland's lead to 79-69.

"It was a huge play,'' Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. "It was tough on Ross because Damon was shooting the ball well, so he had to close out hard and just happened to run into him. But I thought Damon's mere presence on the floor with the way he was shooting was even bigger.

"Any time Damon's shooting the ball like that and he's that much of a worry for the other team, it opens up the floor for everybody else. And that's what he was able to do tonight. That's why the driving lanes were open for LeBron and Eric.''

Jones helped fuel a 11-2 run with a pair of 3-pointers, the second one giving the Cavaliers a 90-73 cushion with 6:36 to play. The Clippers got no closer than the final margin.

"We want to be real greedy and try to win as many games as we can on this west coast trip,'' James said. "We know it's tough, but we're finally starting to pick it up on the road.''

All three referees called technical fouls in the first half. Joe Forte got Brown for arguing about a foul that wasn't called. Tommy Nunez Jr. nailed Kaman for slamming the ball in frustration against the basket support after Ilgauskas dunked over him. James Capers then gave one to Maggette for hanging on the rim too long after a slam dunk.

Notes: James wasn't the only Cleveland player who heard insults from the crowd. Injured center Scot Pollard, wearing a Mohawk haircut and a goatee that made him look like a cross between John Riggins and Mitch Miller, engaged in some lighthearted by-play with fans during a timeout in the third quarter. ... James was on the winning side for the first time in his seven regular-season appearances at Staples Center, including three losses against the Lakers. ... The Cavaliers are 75-48 when James scores 30 or more points, 13-6 when he gets 40 or more, and 1-2 when he has 50 or more. ... Only once in James' four-year career has he reached the 30-point mark and been outscored by a teammate. That was on Nov. 19, 2005, at Philadelphia, when he had 36 and Hughes finished with 37 in a 123-120 victory.


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