NBA: LeBron, Shaq lead Cavs past Grizzlies
By TOM WITHERS
AP Sports Writer
CLEVELAND — LeBron James tied a career high with 15 assists and Shaquille O’Neal ruled underneath, collecting 13 points and 13 rebounds in 21 minutes to help the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the worn-down Memphis Grizzlies 105-89 on Tuesday night for their ninth straight victory.
James scored 22 but was more focused on setting up his teammates. It was the fifth time in six games he has had at least 10 assists, accepting the challenge of running Cleveland’s offense while the club waits for guards Mo Williams and Delonte West to return from injuries.
Cleveland has won its past four games by an average of 19 points.
Rudy Gay scored 15 for Memphis, playing its fourth game in five nights. Zach Randolph finished with eight points — 13 below his average — on 3-of-14 shooting and O.J. Mayo had 10 on a 4-of-15 night.
The Grizzlies were coming off a two-point home win over the Los Angeles Lakers, but they lacked the legs or energy to run with the Cavaliers, who lead the NBA with a 39-11 record and improved to 10-0 against Western Conference teams at home this season.
Before the game, Cleveland’s coaches stressed the importance of stopping Memphis’ inside game, writing “Defend the paint” on the dry-erase board in the Cavs’ locker room. The Grizzlies came in leading the league with 52 points per game in the paint, but with O’Neal blocking four shots, the Cavs never let Memphis’ big men get comfortable and outscored the Grizzlies 65-34 in the lane.
Cleveland built an 18-point halftime lead and never let the Grizzlies get closer than 16 in the second half. After Mayo’s 3-pointer capped a seven-point run, James picked up a loose ball in front of the Grizzlies’ bench, calmly measured his shot and drained a 3-pointer to put Cleveland back in control.
O’Neal doesn’t have to dominate the way he once did, but that doesn’t mean he can’t take over.
In the second quarter, the 37-year-old showed no signs of aging, imposing his will on the Grizzlies’ quality frontline of Randolph and Mark Gasol. O’Neal scored seven straight points — two on a nifty spin move — before feeding James for a layup as the Cavs took a 15-point lead.
Later in the quarter, with the Cavs up by 19, O’Neal gave baseline help and rejected a short shot by Mayo. The play brought Cavs coach Mike Brown out of his seat and he led Cleveland’s fans in a rousing ovation as the 7-foot-1, 325-pound O’Neal came to the bench.
Boosted by O’Neal’s strong defensive effort, Cleveland held Memphis to just 37 points on 35 percent shooting in the first half.
James chose to defer to his teammates in the opening 12 minutes and didn’t attempt his first shot until 4:52 remained in the period, dropping a short hook in the lane. He closed the quarter with a jumper just before the horn, giving Cleveland a 28-16 lead.
NOTES: The win was the 250th for Brown, in his fifth year with Cleveland. ... The Grizzlies are the only team in the league with two players — Randolph and Gay — averaging over 20 points. ... Since the start of last season, the Cavs are an NBA-best 59-5 at home.