Cavs get boost with return of LeBron, Hughes, Varejao

CLEVELAND (AP) -- LeBron James didn't need long to recall the last time he didn't start a game.

"Uh, never," he said.

And never again.

"That was one and done for me," James said, smiling. "I will not be coming off the bench anymore."

James came back -- as a reserve -- and the Cleveland Cavaliers, sparked by their superstar's return from injury, snapped a six-game losing streak with a 118-105 victory over the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday night.

James, the NBA's leading scorer, missed Cleveland's previous five games with what the Cavs have described as a sprained left index finger. Wearing a padded, protective glove on his hand, James scored 17 points in 22 minutes as the finally-getting-healthy Cavs had one of their finest performances this season.

Larry Hughes also came off the bench and scored a season-high 36 points -- in just 26 minutes. It was his second game back after missing 11 with a bruised leg. Zydrunas Ilgauskas added 17 for Cleveland, which set season highs in points, field goal percentage (55), points in a half (65) and bench points (74).

"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."

James was expected to play, and it was assumed he would start.

However, the game began with Cleveland's megastar on the bench in his white-and-wine warmups. It was the first time he had not started in 333 career regular-season games as a pro, and it may have been one of the only times in his life that he wasn't on the court for the opening tip.

He didn't seem to mind, and during a late timeout he did the popular "Soulja Boy" dance to the delight of the crowd.

James checked in with 5:59 left in the first quarter and the Cavs leading 15-11. He entered with Hughes and forward 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 that coach Mike Brown bring him in off the bench to offset any negative reaction toward Varejao, who during messy on-and-off negotiations said he didn't want to play for Cleveland again.

"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."

Hughes didn't need any security as he finished 13-of-17 from the field. The last time a Cleveland reserve scored 36 points or more was Phil Hubbard (37) in 1984.

"Hughes was fantastic," Pacers coach Jim O'Brien said. "I thought they had two LeBron Jameses out there."

Mike Dunleavy scored 23 points and Jermaine O'Neal had 18 for the Pacers. Indiana guard Jamaal Tinsley, who was uninjured after being shot at with an assault weapon in front of a downtown Indianapolis hotel over the weekend, scored just 10.

"Just missed shots," Tinsley said.

After entering the game, James made an immediate difference for the Cavs, who were lost without him over the past two weeks. Cleveland ripped off 13 straight points and outscored Indiana 22-5 over the final six minutes in the first quarter to open a 21-point lead.

The Pacers chipped away and closed within 10 before the Cavs pushed their lead to 65-49 at halftime.

Cleveland put it out of reach in the third quarter with a 14-0 run highlighted by Hughes underhanding a lob pass to James for a dunk and then nailing a 3-pointer as the Cavs ballooned their lead to 25.

James didn't appear to favor his injured hand as he was able to dribble despite the bulky brace. He was injured during a Nov. 28 game at Detroit when he was hit by Pistons forward Nazr Mohammed.

The Cavs were without guard Daniel Gibson, who had a cyst and wisdom tooth removed on Monday.

Game notes
Cleveland's early season injury bug spread to Brown's home. Both his sons broke bones last week playing basketball. "First my team, then my kids," Brown said. ... Hughes is the first player to score 36 points in 26 minutes or less since Houston's Tracy McGrady did it in 2004 against the Cavs. ... O'Brien again defended his decision not to discipline Tinsley, who has been involved in three late-night incidents in the past 14 months. "He did nothing wrong," said O'Brien, who hopes his player makes better decisions in the future. "It's another in a long line of wake-up calls for all professional athletes in the country. They have to watch where they go. They have to watch how late they stay up. There have been too many incidents over the last 18 months that have ranged from homicides to robberies. It's a very, very scary environment these guys live in right now."