James so good, yet so young

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 26, 2005

The Associated Press


- The NBA has never seen a player play this good, this young.

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LeBron James became the youngest player to score 50 or more points in an NBA game, but his franchise-record 56 points weren't enough to prevent the Toronto Raptors from beating the Cleveland Cavaliers 105-98 on Sunday.

''I probably played the best game of my life, but it means nothing when it comes with a loss,'' the 20-year-old said.

He easily surpassed his previous career best of 43 points, set Nov. 24 against Detroit. However, he committed a key turnover with 16 seconds left and missed a pair of 3-point attempts in the final 14 seconds.

James finished 18-for-36 from the field and 14-for-15 from the line. He also had six 3s, 10 rebounds and five assists. But Toronto's bench did in the Cavaliers, outscoring Cleveland's reserves 34-1.

''I don't care about individual stats, especially when you lose,'' James said.

At 20 years, 80 days old, James eclipsed Rick Barry as the youngest player to surpass 50 points. Barry was 21 years, 261 days old when he scored 57 for San Francisco against the New York Knicks, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

''Imagine when he gets old enough to drink,'' Toronto's Jalen Rose said.

James' point total also bested the previous Cavaliers mark of 50 set by Walt Wesley against Cincinnati on Feb. 19, 1971.

James scored eight straight points to cut Toronto's lead to three late in the fourth. He scored his 50th on a bank shot and followed with two straight 3-pointers.

After making an off-balance 3, James paused before running up the floor and clapping his hands.

Rafer Alston followed with a layup, giving Toronto a 103-98 with 23 seconds left. James, with four defenders converging on him, then turned the ball over as he was driving to the basket.

Alston followed with two free throws with 14 seconds to go, and James missed two 3-pointers before the final buzzer.

James' most spectacular points came on a dunk in the fourth quarter. He crossed over before blowing by Pape Sow and throwing down a thunderous dunk, yelling afterward.

''He played an amazing game,'' Rose said. ''It's going to be a game a lot of people talk about, but they're also going to talk about how they lost.''

James played all 48 minutes, and his 56 points were the most by a Raptors opponent.

''I thought he earned all 56,'' Toronto coach Sam Mitchell said. ''I mean, he hit some fadeaway 3s and shots, but he had two guys contesting him.''

Drew Gooden added 24 points and 10 rebounds for the Cavaliers, who have lost nine straight road games and nine of 12 overall.

Gooden couldn't believe James' performance.

''They were doing all types of defenses against him, but he still kept scoring,'' Gooden said. ''I just looked and thought, who would have thought someone like LeBron James would come out of high school and do this in his second year in the NBA? I looked at the clock, and he had 48 points with like five minutes left.''

Rose had 30 points, and Donyell Marshall added 24 for the Raptors.

James scored 29 points in the first two quarters, his most in any half. His previous record for a half was 28 on March 27, 2004, against New Jersey. He finished with 41 in that game.

James committed two straight turnovers, the second of which led to Morris Peterson's dunk, giving Toronto a 12-point lead in the first quarter - its biggest of the game.

But James followed with 10 points and two assists in the final 3:37 of the quarter to help cut the lead to three.