MINNEAPOLIS - LeBron James is making this difficult game look oh so easy.
Barely breaking a sweat, James had 45 points, eight rebounds and five assists to carry the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 97-86 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night.
Despite playing the second game of a back-to-back, James topped 40 points for the second time in the past three games and Drew Gooden added 17 points and nine rebounds for Cleveland.
Al Jefferson had 30 points and eight rebounds for Minnesota, which fell to
James was on a roll from the start, scoring 15 points on 6-for-9 shooting in the first quarter to help the Cavs take an early lead.
Minnesota threatened in the fourth, cutting the deficit to six points when Gerald Green opened the period with a jam for the team`s first fast-break points of the game.
But Cleveland coach Mike Brown immediately brought James back in the game, and he hit a 3-pointer to push the cushion back to nine. He hit another 3 with Greg Buckner in his face on the wing to make the score 81-75 with 5 minutes to go before putting the game away with a breathtaking series of possessions in the final 3 minutes.
With the Cavs clinging to a six-point lead, James scored 10 straight points in less than 2 minutes. He hit twolong
3-pointers and then had a steal and soaring dunk to punctuate his evening, leaving Wolves coach Randy Wittman shaking his head in disbelief.
In what has become a recurring theme for the young Wolves this season, they were outshot at the free-throw line by an enormous margin - 13 attempts to Cleveland`s 33.
James has been handling opponents for the past four games in breathtaking fashion.
He entered the game averaging a triple-double - 37.7 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists - in the previous three games and is showing no signs of slowing down.
Like the rest of the league, the Wolves had no answer for James, and wilted down the stretch because of a stagnant offense and poor shot selection.
Notes:@ Mark Madsen, who has missed the first seven games after having offseason shoulder surgery because of an accident on a personal watercraft, played for the first time on Wednesday night. He entered the game with 4:40 to go in the first quarter and finished with three rebounds in 13 minutes. ... James was asked what kind of gadgets or gear were on his Christmas wish list. "I already have everything," James said with a smile. "I just want my two sons to be healthy and happy." ... Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson was in attendance and received a standing ovation in the fourth quarter.
James 17-26 5-8 45, Gooden 6-13 5-7 17, Ilgauskas 3-6 3-4 9, Gibson 3-7 5-5 11, Pavlovic 1-4 3-4 5, D.Brown 2-8 2-3 6, Dw.Jones 2-3 0-2 4, Da.Jones 0-3 0-0 0, Snow 0-2 0-0 0, Newble 0-1 0-0 0, Totals 34-73 23-33 97.
Gomes 3-6 0-0 6, Jefferson 12-20 6-6 30, Doleac 0-0 0-0 0, Jaric 4-10 1-1 9, McCants 5-16 0-0 11, Madsen 0-0 0-0 0, Buckner 0-2 0-0 0, Walker 5-14 0-2 13, Green 6-8 1-2 13, Smith 0-2 0-0 0, Richard 0-1 0-0 0, Brewer 2-2 0-2 4, Totals 37-81 8-13 86.
3-Point Goals -