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Varejao shines as Cavs cruise to seventh straight

CLEVELAND -- After the referees separated Indiana and Cleveland's heated players, Cavaliers guard Mo Williams stood and stared at the Pacers. With his teammates surrounding him, Williams smiled and slowly shook his head from side to side.

His unspoken message was simple.

"We're not backing down from anybody," Williams said. "We are going to protect our home."

Like pit bulls.

With thousands of Cleveland fans wearing curly, red-headed wigs in his honor, Anderson Varejao didn't miss a shot and scored 17 points in the first half as the defensive-minded Cavaliers, despite getting a season-low 11 points from LeBron James, won their seventh straight, 97-73 over Indiana on Friday night.

A perfect 11-0 at home, Cleveland has won 15 of 16 since starting this season 1-2. The Cavs are doing it with a nasty, suffocating defense led by James, who held Indiana's leading scorer Danny Granger to just four points -- 20 below his average.

"He's the key to their team and they aren't going to be as good if he's not on," said James. "I just took it upon myself to lock in on him and let my team on the other end take care of the offense. It was all about defense. We have enough guys who can score."

The Cavaliers have won by an average of 22 points and are scoring 110 points per game during their streak. They're also holding opponents to 88 points and 40 percent shooting during the run.

"Defense," James said, "is our staple."

Williams and Zydrunas Ilgauskas scored 17 apiece and Delonte West and Daniel Gibson had 14 points each. The 7-foot-3 Ilgauskas also knocked down his fourth 3-pointer of the season.

James was just 4-of-12 from the field and didn't hit double digits in points until 3:45 remained. He added 11 assists and eight rebounds in 38 minutes, and for the first time in five home games, James had to play in the fourth quarter and it turned out to be an eventful few minutes.

With Cleveland leading by 23 and just 4:26 left, James got into a brief exchange under the basket with Granger.

Beaten by James on a drive, Granger reached from behind and grabbed the right arm of Cleveland's superstar, who didn't appreciate the rough treatment. The two exchanged a shove and Ilgauskas came to James' defense and got into it with Indiana's Troy Murphy, who also had Cleveland's Ben Wallace in his face.

James, Granger, Ilgauskas and Murphy were all given technicals.

"The fact that he fouled me was OK," James said. "But I think the extra [stuff] after the play was a little excessive. My teammates came to the rescue and took care of me."

Granger chose his words carefully when discussing his flare-up with James.

"He shoved me and I shoved him back," Granger said. "That was about it. I've got to hold my tongue."

Murphy scored 15 points, and Stephen Graham added 14 for the Pacers, who earlier this week handed the Los Angeles Lakers just their second loss, beating them 118-117 when Murphy tipped in a miss at the buzzer. Last month, Indiana beat the Boston Celtics, one of only two losses by the defending NBA champions.

But the Pacers, who gave Cleveland its closest home game -- a four-point loss on Nov. 7 when Granger scored 33 -- couldn't stay with the Cavs.

"They're a great basketball team," Pacers coach Jim O'Brien said. "They're playing on all cylinders right now and we didn't have what it took."

Varejao scored 13 points on 6-of-6 shooting -- all jumpers -- in the second quarter when Cleveland outscored the Pacers 31-18 to open a 14-point halftime lead.

The Cavs only led 35-33 before closing the first half with a 17-5 spurt over the final 5:32. Varejao, who can opt out of his contract after the season, scored six in the burst, which was highlighted by James making a steal near mid-court and going in for a reverse dunk. The only hiccup in Cleveland's dominant stretch was when Wallace shot an air ball on the second of two free throws.

Varejao came to the Cavaliers in a 2004 trade, and the Brazilian big man made an immediate impact with his energy off the bench. Cleveland fans quickly embraced him, tagging the frizzy-topped forward with a "Wild Thing" nickname while living with his on-court lapses and limited offensive skills.

But the 25-year-old, who never got untracked after missing training camp last season in a contract holdout, has refined his game.

"Andy has been working on getting better," James said. "He got hot. It was good to see him catch fire like that."'

Game notes
James needs to three steals to pass Mark Price (734) as Cleveland's all-time leader. ... Ilgauskas is just 15 rebounds of passing Brad Daugherty (5.227) as the franchise rebounds leader. Ilgauskas has been with the Cavs since 1996 and has seen the franchise through its best and worst times. He has been a special player and James feels the Cavs will retire "Z's" number one day. "It's going to happen," James said. "No. 11 will hang in the rafters." ... Pacers F/G Mike Dunleavy, who hasn't played this season because of a sore right knee, is traveling with the team but O'Brien isn't sure when he will return.

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