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James explodes for 44 points as Cavs topple Hornets

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Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James became the first frontcourt player to reach the 7,000 assist milestone as he scored a season-high 44 points © GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP/File / Patrick Smith

LOS ANGELES, United States, Dec 11LeBron James became the first frontcourt player to reach the 7,000 assist milestone as he scored a season-high 44 points to lead the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 116-105 win over the Charlotte Hornets.

James hit the magic number Saturday in front of a crowd of 20,500 at the Quicken Loans Arena by skipping a nifty pass to teammate Tristan Thompson who was driving to the basket.

“The last couple years this is the best I’ve felt. I’ve put a lot of work into my body, into my craft,” James said.

The 44 points was his best outing since returning to Cleveland and equalled the 44 points he scored in a game one overtime loss against the Golden State Warriors in the 2015 NBA finals.

The Cavaliers delivered two home wins this weekend, and besides eclipsing 7,000 career assists, James also moved into ninth place on the all-time scoring list during the victories over the Miami Heat and the Hornets.

James is not showing any signs of slowing down. He says he is taking better care of his body and the results are evident on the court.

“I’ve re-arranged a little bit with my diet and things of that nature and it’s worked to my benefit,” he said. “And for me to have back-to-back nights like this after coming off a long road trip, just shows that everything is working in the right direction.”

This was James’ first 40-point game during the regular season since February 26, 2015 when he scored 42 in a home win against the Golden State Warriors.

“I didn’t want to play Bron this many minutes,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. “But he came to me and said, ‘Man, coach, I’m fine. Kyrie (Irving) doesn’t have it tonight.’ I was like, ‘No.’ He was like, ‘Man, I’m telling you. I’m fine.’

“And then he started raining threes. They made a comeback but he was playing with great pace and we had to ride him tonight.”

Kemba Walker scored 24 points and Cody Zeller had 17 points and nine rebounds for the Hornets, who had their three-game winning streak snapped.

“He was phenomenal,” Hornets coach Steve Clifton said of James. “He made three or four threes that he’s going to make. You can’t block them. You can’t contest them.

“When he’s shooting the ball like that, there’s nothing you can do, other than blitz, and that’s what he wants you to do, and then he really makes you look bad.”

In Memphis, the host Grizzlies shocked the Golden State Warriors 110-89 for its sixth straight win, holding the Warriors to a season low for points.

It was only the second time this season that the Warriors failed to score 100 points.

Their previous low for points this season was 97 in a 20-point setback to the Los Angeles Lakers on November 4.

Centre Marc Gasol finished with 19 points, eight rebounds, six assists, two blocks and a steal for Memphis, who scored 30 points off 23 Warrior turnovers.

– Retribution for Wade –

In Chicago, Jimmy Butler scored 31 points, Dwyane Wade finished with 28 and Taj Gibson added 13 as Chicago beat Miami 105-100 at the United Center.

It was another moment of retribution for Wade who left the Heat at the end of last season to return to his hometown after Miami gave up on the aging veteran.

Wade, playing for the second time against his team he spent the first 13 seasons with, proved to be a difference-maker.

Wade likes the way the Bulls are able to win games without playing their best.

“In this league, there’s going to be some nights when you’re going to play amazing, there’s going to be some nights when you don’t play well and there’s going to be some nights when you play just good enough to get a win,” said Wade, who also had three assists and a steal.

In Los Angeles, Chris Paul scored 20 points and dished out a season-high 20 assists, and Los Angeles extended the woes of New Orleans with a 133-105 rout at Staples Center.

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