LeBron, Cavs rally past Kings for eighth win in nine tries

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- LeBron James' three quick 3-pointers were a dramatic flourish on 13 commanding minutes as the Cleveland Cavaliers turned a 17-point deficit into a comfortable lead.

When one of their best stretches in an outstanding season was over, the Cavs had made a 42-12 run -- and they were much more proud of the 12 than the 42.

James scored 34 points in the arena where he made his NBA debut, and Cleveland rallied for its eighth victory in nine games, 108-98 over the stumbling Sacramento Kings on Tuesday night.

James started slowly but scored 24 points in the second half as the Eastern Conference leaders showed that this seven-game West Coast road trip probably won't resemble the difficult odysseys of past Cavs squads.

Last season, the Cavaliers lost the first five games of a similarly epic Western road trip in January. Sure, LeBron's brilliance is a big reason for this good start -- but his teammates' defense seems even more important.

"We know that what we've got to take care of is the defensive end," James said. "We got stops that helped us on the offensive end. That's the formula that's been working for us."

Coach Mike Brown has preached defensive consistency as a way to generate more offense, and the results were evident in Sacramento. Most importantly, the Cavs switched their defense to attack Mike Bibby's pick-and-roll tendencies, and the point guard's teammates couldn't answer.

"It was mental toughness and focus," Brown said. "We decided we wanted to get defensive stops. ... We never feel like we're out of any game. I don't care how bad we shoot the basketball. Championship teams are defensive teams. If we get stops, we'll figure out how to score."

James awed the hostile Sacramento crowd with those three 3-pointers -- each longer than the last -- in four possessions early in the fourth to put the Cavs ahead to stay in their fifth straight win. Drew Gooden added 21 points and 11 rebounds, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas had 17 points and nine boards.

Damon Jones hit four 3-pointers against his former team, gleefully taunting the crowd that once loved him as the Cavs won their third straight road game for the first time in nearly a year.

Bibby scored 26 points -- 20 in the first half -- and Brad Miller had 24 for the Kings, who followed up consecutive overtime losses to the Lakers and Portland with a dismal second-half effort to close a five-game homestand.

Bibby, Miller and Ron Artest all refused to speak to reporters after the game, leaving Kevin Martin to explain another discouraging effort.

"We came out for the third quarter, and all of a sudden the lead is gone," said Martin, who had 23 points and a career-high 11 rebounds. "We're like, 'Where did it go?' We need to stay together. We started getting down when they made their little run."

Cleveland beat the Kings 102-97 last season at Arco Arena, with James scoring 11 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter. James was an 18-year-old No. 1 draft pick when he made his NBA debut here on Oct. 29, 2003, scoring 25 points and playing splendidly in a loss.

Cleveland hadn't won back-to-back games in Sacramento since 1997-98.

"I remember coming in here, and those guys were the best in the league," said Larry Hughes, who scored 11 points on 3-of-16 shooting. "It's a different team now, but it's always good to come in here and get a win."

Bibby scored 20 points in the first half, and Miller's perimeter jumper was at its sharpest as the center made eight of his first nine shots, including two straight after halftime as Sacramento went up 61-44.

James scored 13 points in about 4 minutes early in the fourth, but Sacramento got within 98-94 on Martin's 3-pointer with 1:14 to play. Gooden then completed a three-point play, and Artest bricked a 3-pointer to complete a 4-of-14 shooting night.

"LeBron James had an unbelievable spurt that was obviously tough to overcome," Kings coach Eric Musselman said. "We got stagnant with the ball in the second half, and we didn't get the same shots. They turned up the intensity."

Game notes
James caught up to Martin on a fast break and blocked his layup attempt from behind in the second quarter -- though it appeared to be goaltending that wasn't called. ... Denver Broncos WR Javon Walker watched the game from courtside. ... The Kings play nine of their next 12 games on the road.