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James, Cavs dominate early, cruise past Hornets

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CLEVELAND — With one of his truly oldest friends watching, LeBron James and the Cavs did something Monday no other NBA team has done in the last 10 years.

After racing out to a 21-0 lead over the stumbling Charlotte Hornets, the Cavaliers held on for a 97-88 victory, Cleveland’s ninth consecutive win within the Eastern Conference. They did it in front of Warren Buffett, a friend to both James and Cavs owner Dan Gilbert.

Buffett wore a No. 23 jersey while sitting with Gilbert, then visited the Cavs’ locker room to laugh and chat with James as they playfully planned their next milkshake date. The two had lunch and milkshakes together a few years ago when James met Buffett in his hometown of Omaha, Neb.

It’s an unlikely pairing between a 29-year-old NBA superstar and the 84-year-old Buffett, who is widely considered one of the world’s richest men. James, who said this was just the second time Buffett has watched him play in person, compared their ties to the unlikely relationship between comedian Jerry Seinfield and rapper Wale.

“It’s unique, very unique,” James said of he and Buffett. “I had an opportunity to go and spend some time with him a few years ago and our relationship has continued to grow and grow and grow. On business and then personal stuff as well.”

James had 27 points, 13 assists and seven rebounds and forward Kevin Love had 22 points and a season-high 18 rebounds as the Cavaliers became the first team in more than a decade to score the first 21 points in a game.

The last team to do it was the Portland Trail Blazers, which began a game with a 22-0 lead on the Boston Celtics on Feb. 21, 2004.

The Hornets missed their first 10 shots and didn’t score until a long jumper from Al Jefferson with 5:34 left in the first quarter, drawing heavy boos from a home crowd that was enjoying the shutout.

“Being 21 down against an elite team on their floor is tough to overcome,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. “We played a good enough offensive game to win against a terrific team, but our first-quarter defense was obviously poor.”

Jefferson finished with 14 points and eight rebounds. Guard Kemba Walker had 24 points, five rebounds and five assists for the Hornets, who lost their third straight and for the 13th time in 15 games.

The Hornets (6-18) never led, although they did pull within 59-57 early in the third quarter following a basket by guard Lance Stephenson. The Cavaliers (14-9) responded by scoring 13 of the game’s next 17 points to retain command entering the fourth.

“Sometimes the toughest thing that can happen is for you to run out to such a big lead early,” Blatt said. “It brings with it a little bit of a psychological letdown and also gives the other team the feeling that it can’t get much worse, we should just relax and play. It’s an interesting dynamic. I wish I had the secret for making 20 (point leads into) 40 and 40 (point leads into) 60. It’s not very realistic in any basketball league I know of.”

Kyrie Irving broke out of a mini-shooting slump with 16 points and five assists and Tristan Thompson had 10 points and five rebounds off the bench for the Cavs, who continue to dominate within their conference. Their .800 winning percentage (12-3) within the conference is the best in the East this season.

Hornets forward Cody Zeller left the arena with a mangled nose after Cavs center Anderson Varejao fell on him while Zeller was face down. The team called it a nasal contusion and Zeller now has a knot on the bridge of his nose.

“Varejao went in on me and I fell,” Zeller said. “My face and my nose hit the floor, then he landed on top of me.”

It was that kind of night for the reeling Hornets.

NOTES: F Michael Kidd-Gilchrist returned to the Charlotte starting lineup after coming off the bench for a few games. Kidd-Gilchrist is working his way back from a stress reaction in his foot that cost him 12 games. He scored one point in 21 minutes Monday. … Hornets coach Steve Clifford, on the firing of his good friend Mike Malone in Sacramento: “I was shocked. … It shows you this league gets crazy.” … G Matthew Dellavedova and G Dion Waiters returned to the Cavs’ rotation after both experienced stomach/abdominal problems over the weekend. … Coach David Blatt hopes G/F Mike Miller can return from a concussion for Wednesday’s home game against the Atlanta Hawks. Miller will participate in Tuesday’s full practice, and if he comes through it without any setbacks, he should be cleared to play.

Up to the minute news and reports from the news wire of The Sports Xchange.

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