LeBron James is back, and apparently, so are the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Cleveland's star should be back in the starting lineup for the first time in seven games on Friday when the Cavaliers visit the struggling New Jersey Nets.
James missed five games with what the team described as a sprained left index finger, but returned on Tuesday and helped the Cavaliers (10-12) beat Indiana 118-105 and end a six-game losing streak. The NBA's leading scorer - averaging 29.9 points per game - came off the bench for the first time in 333 career regular-season games.
"That was one and done for me," said James, who had 17 points in 22 minutes while playing with a padded, protective glove on his hand. "I will not be coming off the bench anymore."
James entered the game along with Larry Hughes - playing for the second time since missing 11 games with a bruised leg - and Anderson Varejao, who was making his season debut after ending a contract holdout last week by signing a three-year, $17 million contract. James said he requested to be brought off the bench to help mute a negative reaction to Varejao's season debut from the home fans.
"I thought it would raise the intensity of the fans, having me, Larry and Andy come in at the same time - and it worked," James said. "I thought by coming in with Andy it might stop some of the boos Andy might get, just protecting my teammates."
James certainly gave the Cavaliers a spark, but he wasn't the only one. Hughes scored a season-high 36 points in just 26 minutes - the most points by a Cleveland reserve since Phil Hubbard had 37 in 1984.
Hughes had 22 points in his first game back, a 96-93 loss at Charlotte on Saturday.
"I've been catching a rhythm and have had the opportunity to play off of the ball more," Hughes told the Cavs' official Web site. "I think that works better for what I like to do."
With James, Hughes and Varejao back together, Cleveland set season highs in points, field goal percentage (55), points in a half (65) and bench points (74). The Cavaliers had averaged just 80.7 points and were outscored by an average of more than 16 points during their losing streak.
"It was a good feeling," James said. "You go through a stretch when you're losing games and people were looking at us like we're not a good team. We knew once we got our guys back that it would be a totally different story.
"We back now."
Cleveland's only home loss during its six-game slide was a 100-79 defeat to the Nets (9-13). Richard Jefferson scored 36 points for New Jersey, which has won nine of 10 against the Cavaliers at home, but just two of the last six meetings overall in the series.
The Cavaliers also beat the Nets in six games in the second round of last season's playoffs en route to the Eastern Conference title.
New Jersey suffered its fourth straight loss Tuesday, falling 91-82 to the Los Angeles Clippers. Richard Jefferson led the Nets with 21 points but was 6-for-21 from the field as the team shot just 32 percent - its second-worst shooting night of the season.
"This is a veteran ballclub and we've just got to stay together," said point guard Jason Kidd, who had 11 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists for his 93rd career triple double and sixth this season. "Fits have already been thrown. We're trying to find a way, trying to find anything to get us going in the right direction."
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