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Monday, March 20, 2006 - Page updated at 08:05 PM


NBA Wire Notes: Cavaliers flip switch on battle of stars

CLEVELAND — Forget the Kobe vs. LeBron hype. This one belonged to Flip.

In a matchup of two of the league's top three leading scorers, Flip Murray took over. The way LeBron James sees it, Murray set the tone for Cleveland's playoff run as well.

Murray made a free throw with 3.4 seconds left and scored 14 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter Sunday, leading the Cavaliers to a 96-95 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Lakers had one last chance to win, but Kobe Bryant's three-pointer clanked off the back of the rim as time expired. Bryant, under double coverage and struggling to get off the shot, complained to officials that he was fouled.

With streamers falling from the rafters and the arena erupting, James gathered teammates in a huddle on the court.

"It was a big win for us," James said. "Mentally, I wanted to get the guys focused and let them know that this was a big win for us getting ready for the playoffs."

Murray's free throw marked his second game-winner for the Cavaliers since he was acquired from Seattle at the trade deadline for seldom-used Mike Wilks and cash. Murray made a three-pointer with 3.9 seconds remaining to win at Chicago on March 2.

"Today, I had the chance to drive to the hoop and spark the team," said Murray, who had a career-high eight rebounds. "I just tried to come out and be aggressive in the second half."

Bryant, who shot 66 percent in the first half, finished with 38 points, six rebounds and five assists. James led Cleveland with 29 points, eight rebounds and seven assists.

"This game had playoff intensity and it was good to see us respond," James said.

Zydrunas Ilgauskas scored 25 points and had seven rebounds for the Cavaliers (38-29), who have won two straight after a three-game skid. Lamar Odom scored 25 points and had eight rebounds and nine assists for Los Angeles, which has lost four of five. Smush Parker scored 14.

The Lakers (34-34) fell to .500 for the first time since March 1 and lead New Orleans by one game for the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference.

"The game was in our hands," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "We led for 46 minutes. It was a basic collapse by our team in the fourth quarter."


• As Larry Brown gets more confused in this lost New York Knicks season, he was asked about Jamal Crawford, the former Rainier Beach High star, and said, "I've been blessed coaching a lot of great kids. But he's at the top of the list."

• Detroit guard Richard Hamilton was fined $5,000 by the NBA for throwing a ball into the stands during a game. Hamilton was ejected in the third quarter of the Pistons' 105-103 loss to the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. He reacted harshly to an offensive foul by firing the ball to the other end of the court, with it hitting off the top of the shot clock.

Ron Artest said he was so sure he would be traded from the Indiana Pacers to one of the L.A. teams that he got an apartment in Hollywood and signed a nine-month lease.

• The San Antonio Spurs are sitting Manu Ginobili because of a leg injury and seem willing to give up the top seed in the West if necessary. Said coach Gregg Popovich: "That's the classic dilemma: You want to keep going to win the division, but what's more important? Being healthy or winning the division?"

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