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Cavaliers claim Central crown

THE Cleveland Cavaliers are champions again, though not playing championship-caliber basketball on the defensive end.

Having LeBron James allows them to overcome those defensive lapses.

James scored 51 points, including six in overtime, and the Cavaliers clinched their first Central Division title since 1976 on Friday night with a 126-123 victory over the Sacramento Kings in the finale of a perfect three-game trip.

"Right now I am allowing LeBron's minutes to get out of hand because we are not good defensively," Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. "We cannot win without LeBron, nor can we win without defending. He has been our safety valve and we've outscored our opponents these last three games.

"We have good players. All of them know how to play defense. They have been doing it most of the year. We have to hold ourselves accountable on that end if we expect to be a championship-contending team."

Although James failed to extend his triple-double streak to four games, he was clearly the difference, scoring a combined 22 points in the fourth quarter and overtime. He added nine assists while falling five points short of his career high.

"It's been 33 years, way before I was born," James said. "We put up a banner, that's Central Division champs. That's something we can be very proud of doing."

Elsewhere in the National Basketball Association, it was: Rockets 91, Bobcats 86; Hornets 95, Bucks 86; Trail Blazers 109, Nets 100; Celtics 102, Grizzlies 92; Hawks 101, Pacers 87; Warriors 119, Mavericks 110; Magic 112, Wizards 103; 76ers 104, Bulls 101; Pistons 99, Raptors 95 (in overtime); and Knicks 102, Timberwolves 94.

In Sacramento, California, Anderson Varejao had 18 points and 12 rebounds for Cleveland, which secured just the second division title in franchise history.

Wally Szczerbiak scored 12 points and Mo Williams had 10 as the Cavs won their fourth straight and eighth in nine games to tie the Los Angeles Lakers for the NBA's best record at 52-13.

The win gave Cleveland a sweep of its three-game road trip.

Kevin Martin scored 34 points for the Kings, who fell to 0-25 against the Eastern Conference. Bobby Jackson and Jason Thompson both had 19 points and Will Solomon scored 18.

In Charlotte, North Carolina, the Houston Rockets closed on the leadership of the Southwest Division by beating the Bobcats despite blowing a late lead.

Yao Ming scored 23 points to lead Houston, which moved within 1-1/2 games of Southwest leader San Antonio.


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