Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images
LeBron James recorded 36 points and 12 assists for the Cavaliers.
CLEVELAND, May 8 (AP) -- Wearing a menacing scowl, LeBron James stomped toward Cleveland's jubilant bench, celebrating another of his big baskets. He wasn't about to flash that multimillion-dollar smile.
Not now. This wasn't the time or the place.
"He said he wanted the ball,'' coach Mike Brown said.
And the Cavaliers gave it to him - again and again.
James scored 25 of his 36 points in the second half and the Cavaliers, drawing from tough lessons learned in last year's playoffs, beat the New Jersey Nets 102-92 on Tuesday night to open a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
James added 12 assists and Sasha Pavlovic scored a career playoff-high 17 points for the Cavaliers, who will soon head to New Jersey for Saturday's Game 3 with a commanding lead in the best-of-seven series.
"We took care of home,'' James said. "Now it's a challenge to go into the Meadowlands. We don't just want to win one.''
This is unfamiliar territory for Cleveland, which has never been up by two games in the semifinals. But with James around, anything could be possible for these Cavs, who have never advanced to the NBA finals.
"He made the plays to get us over the hump,'' Brown said. "He was the man.''
The Nets had hoped to slip out of town with at least one win, and although they shot well enough (53 percent) to get it, they were outrebounded 49-32 and took 20 fewer shots than the Cavs, who also kept several possessions alive by outhustling New Jersey.
"They are just kicking our tails on the boards,'' Nets coach Lawrence Frank said.
Vince Carter scored 26 points to lead the Nets, but for the second straight game he struggled shooting. Carter was just 10-for-26 and missed two key shots in the final two minutes when New Jersey was still close.
"We were in it, but we just didn't execute at the end,'' Jefferson said. "We had opportunities down the stretch and now it's on our home court. We have to figure out a way ... have to.''
The Cavaliers improved to 6-0 in these playoffs and have now won 10 straight overall since their last loss on April 8. In last year's semifinals, the Cavs dropped the first two games on the road at Detroit. They were humbling losses, blowouts by the Pistons that showed the Cavs the importance of home-court advantage.
This time around, on their own floor, the Cavaliers were a different team.
"We believe in each other and no matter what type of ballgame it's going to be, we believe we can win,'' James said.
Although he said he was still battling a head cold, James didn't seem to be troubled by anything. With his scoring high for this postseason, he has now scored at least 20 points in all 19 career playoff games, the second-longest streak to begin a career in NBA history. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did it in his first 27 postseason games.
"It was a tug-of-war match for the first three quarters,'' James said. "My teammates needed me to make plays and I did.''
And when James needed help scoring, rebounding and playing defense, his teammates were there for him.
James' basket with 5:41 left put the Cavs ahead 89-85, and on Cleveland's next trip, he whipped a pass in the lane to a cutting Drew Gooden, whose two-handed slam put the Cavaliers up by six. Gooden finished with 10 points and 14 rebounds.
Carter, begging for the ball every time the Nets had it, was able to get the Nets within 93-89 on a bucket with 2:40 left. The Nets had a chance to cut it further, but Carter missed a tough fadeaway on the baseline and fell to the floor with a bad cramp as the Cavs pushed the ball up the floor.
"I'm going to keep shooting and keep playing,'' Carter said. "I'm not going to hold my head because I'm not making shots. It can turn around in a matter of seconds.''
Carter missed again with 1:43 left, and this time James made the Nets pay with a 15-footer to make it 96-89 with 1:19 left.With 54 seconds left, Pavlovic missed a long jumper but was able to run down his rebound, yet another missed chance for the Nets.
"That's what they do,'' Jefferson said. "They are No. 1 in the league in second-chance points and we have to stop it. It's not like they're going to go from first to 29th. We have to adjust.''
Notes: New Jersey has never overcome an 0-2 deficit and now has to win four of five. ... In their six playoff games, the Cavs have outrebounded their opponents by 13.5 per game. ... NBA commissioner David Stern addressed a slew of topics with media members before the game. Among the weightier issues: the league's global expansion and intent to develop an NBA-like league in China, playoff reseeding and the lack of superstars - except for James - left in the playoffs. ... R&B star Usher, whose absence at games has led to speculation he was no longer a Cavs minority owner, sat courtside as did Browns wide receiver Braylon Edwards and former NBA enforcer Charles Oakley. ... Referee Michael Smith shook off an accidental elbow to the nose in the first quarter from Gooden.