SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Four years after LeBron James made his NBA debut in Arco Arena, he can perform much greater feats with a whole lot less effort.
Back in 2003, the teenage phenom put in a full night of relentless effort in an outstanding first outing. These days, the King of the Eastern Conference can take most of the night off and still flatten the Sacramento Kings.
James rallied the Cavaliers with eight points on a series of dynamic moves in the final 2:57, and Cleveland hung on for a 93-91 victory Friday night.
James finished with 26 points despite seeming to sit back and watch much of the Cavs` fourth game in six nights. He scored just seven points in the first half, and was passive for much of the second until rising up for his late flurry, capped by a beautiful three-point play with 53 seconds left.
“You`ve just got to seize the moment,” James said. “For the first three quarters, I didn`t force anything. I like to just take what the offense gives me, and I make plays happen. In the fourth, I was able to get some rebounds and force the issue more, and it turned into good things. The team did a great job feeding off me.”
That strategy might not fly in the postseason, but it worked just fine in a November matchup with the scrappy Kings.
Devin Brown had 20 points and a career-high 11 rebounds for the Cavaliers, who treaded dangerously close to a surprising upset loss until James perked up in the fourth stop of a six-game road trip.
But the defending NBA finalists weren`t safe until Kevin Martin missed a long jumper at the buzzer. Martin, who had 32 points while making 17 free throws for the Kings, couldn`t draw a foul 2 seconds earlier despite apparent contact from Cleveland`s Drew Gooden.
“Obviously, not a person in the building didn`t think he got fouled,” Sacramento coach Reggie Theus said. “They had been calling that foul all game. It looked like a foul to me.”
John Salmons and Francisco Garcia each scored 18 points for the 1-4 Kings, who won their home opener Tuesday night despite failing to sell out Arco Arena for the first time since 1999. Another non-sellout crowd still was loud for the return of James, who formally joined the NBA here on Oct. 29, 2003, with 25 points, nine assists and six rebounds.
“We contained him as well as we could,” Salmons said of James. “But he made some plays down the stretch. That`s what he`s going to do.”
Brown provided the Cavs` only consistent effort, rebounding aggressively and playing tough defense. After showing up to training camp overweight and only getting playing time because of Larry Hughes` bruised knee, Brown finally feels good about his first season with Cleveland.
“I wasn`t playing hard, and wasn`t doing anything to help the team,” Brown said of his recent efforts. “I worked tonight and kept working to get shots, just letting my teammates know I`m ready.”
After trailing for nearly every minute of their first four games, the Kings took a one-point lead into the fourth quarter. Martin`s dunk on a 70-foot football pass from Brad Miller put Sacramento up 78-76 with 6:52 to play.
Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who finished with 11 points and 15 rebounds, tied it with a putback on an offensive rebound with 2:08 left. James then put the Cavs ahead 88-86 by grabbing a rebound and sprinting past three Kings for a two-handed dunk.
James hit a jumper and a three-point play on the Cavaliers` next two possessions to put them up 93-88, but Salmons converted a three-point play before Damon Jones missed a jumper to give Sacramento one last shot.
After Gooden appeared to foul Martin while the ball went out of bounds, Martin couldn`t hit a tough shot from the sideline. Cleveland celebrated while leaving the court in its third straight win over the Kings.
“John defended (James) better than I`ve ever seen him defended,” said Martin, who declined to speculate whether he was fouled. “He was in his pocket the whole game.”
The Cavs played their third straight game without Hughes. Veterans Donyell Marshall (sprained right wrist) and Eric Snow (sprained left knee) still are inactive, and rookie forward Demetris Nichols didn`t dress because of back spasms.
Cleveland won`t get any sympathy from the Kings, who still are without their two best players. Guard Mike Bibby is out until at least mid-December with a thumb injury, while forward Ron Artest served the fifth game of his seven-game suspension.
* Martin made his first 10 free throws, finishing 17-of-18.
* Raiders WR Jerry Porter attended the game.
* Sacramento played the first of an NBA rarity: back-to-back home games on consecutive days. The Kings host Minnesota tonight.