Cavaliers 109, Timberwolves 95
LeBron James' only moves in the fourth quarter were in a playful dance-off with one of the arena's ushers.
After a string of nail-biters, the Cleveland Cavaliers finally enjoyed a blowout.
J.J. Hickson scored a career-high 23, James added 11 assists before resting the last 12 minutes and the Cavs finally won comfortably following two weeks of tense-and-tight games, beating the Minnesota Timberwolves 109-95 on Wednesday night for their sixth straight victory.
It was a welcome change for the Cavaliers, whose previous seven games were decided by a combined 21 points. Cleveland was coming off back-to-back one-point wins over Oklahoma City and Miami.
``We're OK with having ones where the big guys don't have to play as much,'' James said. ``We're OK finishing games off with heart pounders for the coaching staff and fans. ``
Emerging as an interior option for Cleveland, Hickson was active near the basket and went 8 of 10 from the field and made all 7 free throws in 25 minutes. Leading by 19 points after three, Cavs coach Mike Brown had the luxury of sitting James, Hickson and Shaquille O'Neal for the fourth.
The Cavaliers were again without injured point guards Mo Williams and Delonte West, but it hardly mattered against the Timberwolves, who dropped to 3-21 outside Minnesota.
James added 12 points and six rebounds in 31 minutes.
Corey Brewer scored 22 and Kevin Love 20 for the Timberwolves, who lacked the firepower to trade baskets with the NBA's best team.
``They're one of the best teams we've played,'' Brewer said. ``They've got LeBron. They've got Shaq. They've got a lot of really good players.''
Hickson is developing into another.
Most of his points came on dunks or layups as James found him slashing to the basket. With Hickson part of their offensive package, the Cavs can go down low to O'Neal, Anderson Varejao or Zydrunas Ilgauskas and take pressure off James.
James has developed a nice chemistry with Hickson, a second-year forward who entered the draft early from North Carolina State. Along with feeding his teammate passes, James said he dishes out advice to Hickson.
``One thing I try to do is just stay in his ear, positively,'' James said. ``I'm going to continue to let him know how easy it can be for him if he just does what I tell him to do.''
James' comment was met with laughter. He wasn't kidding.
``Seriously, man,'' James said. ``It sounds kind of weird, but I see a lot of openings for him on the court that he doesn't see. He doesn't have a lot of experience and I just try to stay in his ear.''
O'Neal added 13 points and four assists in just 19 minutes and Jamario Moon added a season-high 14 points.
O'Neal, too, sees big potential in the 21-year-old Hickson.
``I told J.J. when I first got here, 'J.J., you could be Cedric Ceballos','' O'Neal said. ``Of course, he doesn't know who that was. I played with Cedric Ceballos, who never got any plays called for him, but he averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds. I think J.J. can do the same thing.''
The rare blowout gave the Cavs, who have won 21 of 25, a chance to relax and fool around more than they have at almost any point this season.
During the third quarter, Daniel Gibson drew a charging foul and as he was laying on the court, James, O'Neal and Anthony Parker rushed over to tend to their fallen teammate. But once they saw he was OK, the trio began tickling Gibson and Parker even pretended to revive him with chest compressions.
During a timeout late in the fourth, the arena scoreboard showed James imitating the usher, whose frenetic dance style has made him a popular fixture during Cleveland's home games.
The Timberwolves played much better after being blown out by 33 in New York and 27 at Milwaukee in their previous games, but gave up 60 points in the paint and lost their fifth straight.
``I was much more pleased with their effort,'' Timberwolves coach Kurt Rambis said. ``I was happier with the way they played. A lot of it has to do with their mental approach and focus. I like the way our guys fought.''
James recorded another of his signature chase-down blocks in the first quarter. The latest victim was Brewer, who appeared to be on his way to an easy breakaway bucket when James raced down the floor, caught the unsuspecting swingman from behind and swatted his shot out of bounds.
Brewer's only reaction was a wide, what-can-you-do smile.
``I kind of knew he was coming, but you have to take it, man,'' Brewer said.
NOTES: North Carolina coach Roy Williams had a courtside seat to watch some of his former Tar Heels - Cleveland's Jawad Williams and Danny Green and Minnesota's Wayne Ellington. Green and Ellington played on last year's NCAA championship team. ... Cleveland has won nine straight over Minnesota. ... Cavs are 9-0 at home against Western Conference teams.