Regular Season Series (Game 3 of 4)

Series starts 11/18

Game 1: Thursday, November 18th
Game 2: Saturday, November 20th
Game 3: Monday, January 3rd
Game 4: Tuesday, January 11th

Cavaliers 94

(18-12, 7-9 away)

Bobcats 83

(7-21, 6-8 home)

    7:00 PM ET, January 3, 2005

    Charlotte Coliseum, Charlotte, NC

    1 2 3 4 T
    CLE 27 27 24 1694
    CHA 32 20 15 1683

    Top Performers

    Cle: L. James 26 Pts, 8 Reb, 6 Ast, 2 Stl

    Cha: J. Hart 11 Pts, 1 Reb, 7 Ast, 2 Stl, 1 Blk

    James shoots 11-of-19; Okafor's double-double streak ends

    CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- LeBron James didn't like the plastic mask he wore to protect his broken left cheek. It was hot, uncomfortable and not easy to get used to.

    Not until Ira Newble fed him a pass that he slammed in for an alley-oop dunk did James feel comfortable, and he scored 26 points Monday night to lead the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 94-83 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats.

    After his dunk with 6:03 to play in the first quarter -- James' first attempt of the game -- Newble pointed at him and yelled "You're all right! You're all right!."

    "I've got a lot of confidence in myself, I've got a lot of confidence in my teammates and they come to me and look at me as a leader," James said. "I can't afford to be out there timid. It doesn't matter if I've got a mask on or if I don't. I've just got to be aggressive."

    James was given the mask Monday morning in Cleveland, then flew to Charlotte to rejoin his team. He said before the game he preferred not to wear the mask, which he needed after Houston center Dikembe Mutombo elbowed him in the face last week.

    Once he got used to it, he played as well as he usually does. James shot 11-of-19 and added eight rebounds and six assists.

    "What mask? Who?" coach Paul Silas joked. "He played a normal game. I was happy he didn't seem to have any effects.

    "LeBron just loves to play. He is very passionate about basketball and only something extremely terrible could prevent him from playing."

    Drew Gooden added 19 points and played terrific defense on Charlotte rookie Emeka Okafor. Okafor opened the first quarter with 10 points and three rebounds, but finished with just 12 points and six rebounds to snap his streak of consecutive double-doubles at 19 games.

    "I think his last game without a double-double was against us, he was just coming out and doing what he wanted at will," Gooden said. "So we put a body on him at all times. I took it as a challenge."

    Charlotte native Jeff McInnis scored 13 points despite being bothered all day by flu symptoms.

    Kareem Rush scored 19 points to lead the Bobcats, who lost their sixth straight game.

    Charlotte coach Bernie Bickerstaff said the problems against Cleveland started with Okafor, who was off all night.

    "Emeka had a difficult time," Bickerstaff said. "He's basically been the carrier. He couldn't do the things he normally does, hold on to the ball, those kinds of things ... it just wasn't happening for him."

    It was happening for James, who took off in the second quarter, scoring 13 of his points. The burst was punctuated when he stole the ball from Jason Kapono near midcourt, then briefly lost it before scrambling after it and converting it into a right-handed windmill dunk.

    Despite James' efforts, the Cavaliers couldn't pull away from Charlotte and led just 54-52 at halftime. That changed at the start of the second half when James scored two baskets in 25 seconds to force the Bobcats to take a quick timeout.

    The first, a long jumper, had Bickerstaff griping to his assistants about James' speed. The second was a fast-break dunk over most of the Bobcats.

    The timeout didn't help, Cleveland scored three consecutive baskets, and Bickerstaff was clearly disgusted when he used another timeout following McInnis' putback of James' miss to make it 62-54.

    But it wasn't Charlotte's defense that was the problem. It was the offense, or lack thereof.

    Charlotte didn't score for almost seven minutes, missing 14 shots during the span. The drought lasted until Kapono's jumper with 4:44 to go in the third.

    Game notes

    With their season officially over, there were at least five Carolina Panthers spread out among the courtside seats. ... Okafor won the NBA's rookie of the month award for December, the second consecutive month he's earned it. ... The Cavaliers were 0-for-11 from 3-point range.

    Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press


    Team Stat Comparison

    Points 94 83
    FGM-FGA 38-84 (.452) 33-86 (.384)
    3PM-3PA 0-12 (.000) 4-13 (.308)
    FTM-FTA 18-22 (.818) 13-20 (.650)
    Rebounds (Offensive-Total) 20-54 13-35
    Assists 22 21
    Turnovers 17 10
    Steals 7 10
    Blocks 5 5
    Fast Break Points 21 8
    Fouls (Tech/Flagrant) 19 (0/0) 18 (0/0)
    Largest Lead 17 7

    Top Performers

    LeBron James James
    Points: 26
    Reb: 8
    Ast: 6
    Stl: 2
    Blk: 0
    Jason Hart Hart
    Points: 11
    Reb: 1
    Ast: 7
    Stl: 2
    Blk: 1