CLEVELAND – LeBron James had 22 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, and the Cleveland Cavaliers used a 74-point first half to hammer the New York Knicks 124-93 on Monday night in their first game since learning Shaquille O'Neal will miss the rest of the regular season.
The Cavaliers didn't miss the 15-time All-Star, who had surgery on his injured right thumb Monday morning and is expected to miss two months. The team is hopeful he will return for at least part of the playoffs.
The 31-point margin of victory is the largest this season for Cleveland, which equaled a season high with its 74-point first half — set three weeks ago against the Knicks. The Cavaliers outrebounded New York 60-31 and led by as much as 49. They have won eight straight in the series.
J.J. Hickson started at center in place of O'Neal in a game that looked more like a pickup contest in the park.
James, who entered averaging 35.4 points, 7.9 assists and 7.1 rebounds in his last seven games against New York, sat the entire fourth quarter. He didn't have one of his trademark New York performances, but he didn't need it.
Antawn Jamison had 17 points and 12 rebounds, while Anderson Varejao had 14 points and 10 boards. Hickson had 17 points and nine rebounds, and Delonte West scored 15 points as the Knicks flopped in their final chance to impress James before he can become a free agent this summer.
Reserve Bill Walker scored 21 points for New York, Al Harrington had 18 and Danilo Gallinari 17. David Lee added 10 points and 10 rebounds.
The Cavaliers raced through New York's porous defense, turning the game into a dunk contest.
West threw up an alley-oop pass to James in the second quarter while getting fouled. James caught the pass with his back to the basket, lowered the ball between his knees and slammed it down behind his back. The basket didn't count because of the foul, but that mattered little to James, who giggled in amazement while watching the replay on the scoreboard.
The foul on West gave Cleveland two free throws and possession. He inbounded to Varejao, got the ball back immediately and dunked over the 6-foot-8 Tracy McGrady to put Cleveland ahead 61-41 with 4:26 to play in the half. West, who is five inches shorter, flexed and growled upon landing, drawing a smirk from McGrady.
During one loose ball in the second half, James and West were so eager to get down the floor and start a fast break, both failed to grab the ball while racing past it.
Cleveland scored 18 of its 38 points in the first quarter on dunks and layups. The Cavaliers scored 66 points in the paint against a New York defense that allows an average of 46.1 per game.
Cleveland's Daniel Gibson was inactive for personal reasons. … James was named the Eastern Conference player of the week and player of the month. James has won every player of the month award this season and six straight dating to last season. … New York's Wilson Chandler missed the game for personal reasons. … C Eddy Curry is "close" to returning from knee surgery, coach Mike D'Antoni said.
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