James, Cavs rally but can't overcome VC's 38, Nets

CLEVELAND (AP) -- After halftime, the one-man Vince Carter Show became more of an ensemble piece.

Carter scored a season-high 38 points -- 26 in the first half -- and Richard Jefferson added 18, including nine in the final 5:07 as the New Jersey Nets won their fourth straight road game, 109-100 over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night.

"I just felt I needed to step it up for myself and my team," said Carter, who shot 15-of-21. "I rededicated myself, and whatever happened, happened. I wanted to attack the basket. It's the same style, it's just that I'm hitting shots lately."

LeBron James scored 32 points and became the first Cleveland player to score 30 or more points in four straight games since 1981, but it wasn't enough as the Cavaliers dropped to 7-2 at home.

Carter added 11 rebounds and six assists for the Nets, who had all five starters in double figures. Nenad Krstic and Jason Kidd had 16 points apiece for New Jersey, which let a 10-point lead slip away before getting it together in the final minutes.

"We didn't panic," said Kidd. "We got some stops, put defensive pressure on them and got the lead back. I was just waiting, having a little popcorn and enjoying the show. When they took the lead, we came to R.J. [Jefferson] and he responded."

With New Jersey leading 100-95, Kidd's steal led to a putback by Jefferson with 1:59 left and the Nets closed it out by making their free throws down the stretch.

"I had been on ice for 3½ quarters," said Jefferson, who made all four shots in the fourth. "I was watching Vince go to work, he's unbelievable. Then coach put the ball in my hands and I tried to be aggressive."

Zydrunas Ilgauskas scored 22 points and Donyell Marshall 16 for the Cavs, who couldn't come up with big defensive stops when they needed them and allowed the Nets to shoot a season-best 57 percent from the floor.

"We are not getting it done on defense," said Cleveland coach Mike Brown, irritated at his team's effort. "Until we figure it out, you'll see plenty of nights like that. They kicked our tail from start to finish."

James bounced back after starting out 1-for-6 with three points in the first quarter. The third-year All-Star, who came in averaging 28.9 points, has scored at least 30 in four straight for the first time. Mike Mitchell (1980-81) was the last Cavalier to go on a similar scoring spree.

With his team down by nine early in the fourth, Brown put Eric Snow, Cleveland's best perimeter defender, on Carter. The strategy worked briefly as Cleveland went on an 11-2 spurt, capped by Snow stripping Carter and feeding Marshall for a layup to tie it 87-all with 6:49 remaining.

Marshall's 3-pointer gave Cleveland its first lead since the first quarter, but Carter and the Nets responded. After James was called for a rare five-second backdown violation, Jefferson converted a 3-point play to make it 92-90.

"I've heard of it, but I've never seen it called," James said. "It might have been the right call, but I've never seen it. At that point, it kind of took the life out of us."

Krstic then blocked a putback by James underneath, leading to a layup by Carter as the Nets regained control with a 9-0 spurt, the final two baskets coming when the Cavs failed to slow Jefferson on drives.

The Nets led 65-48 early in the third quarter. Cleveland, however, cut it to nine when Larry Hughes made a steal at halfcourt and went in for a layup, driving past a surprised ballboy who had come onto the floor with a broom to clean up a wet spot.

Carter dropped three 3-pointers and unleashed his entire offensive repertoire, including a ferocious windmill dunk off a steal, on the Cavaliers. Carter's driving scoop shot -- an
underhanded layup he spun in high off the backboard a la Julius Erving -- helped give the Nets a 54-46 halftime lead.

Game notes
James has gone over 30 points 11 times in 18 games. ... Nets guard Jeff McInnis was back in Cleveland for the first time since the Cavs decided not to re-sign him. McInnis, who stayed behind for the Cavs' final game last season, wasn't booed as badly as he feared. "People think what they think, but I'm not a bad person," said McInnis, who didn't score in 14 minutes ... Snow, best known for his defense, came in leading the league in assists-to-turnover ratio. "He's playing great," Brown said. "He's doing everything we have asked. He's running the club, he's defending and he's trying to be an extension of me out on the floor." ... Rapper Jay-Z, who owns a minority share of the Nets, sat courtside with his girlfriend, singer Beyonce.

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