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James, Cavaliers beat LA without injured Williams

CLEVELAND — As chants of “M-V-P” filled the electrified air, LeBron James locked his thumbs under his maroon jersey and made it pop off his chest.

The Cavaliers had beaten the NBA champions again, and James soaked in every second.

“This,” he said, “is what I live for.”

Cleveland showed its Christmas Day win over Los Angeles was no gift as James scored 37 points, including 12 straight down the stretch, and the Cavs, playing their first game without injured Mo Williams, beat Kobe Bryant and the Lakers 93-87 on Thursday night.

J.J. Hickson grabbed a career-high 14 rebounds and Anderson Varejao made three free throws in the final 20 seconds as Cleveland swept the season series between the league’s top two teams. That could give the Cavs home-court advantage if they meet the Lakers in June’s finals.

A lot can happen between now and then, but the win gave Cleveland confidence it might be able to survive despite losing Williams, their All-Star point guard, who will miss at least one month with a shoulder sprain. Williams scored a team-high 28 in Cleveland’s Dec. 25 win at Staples Center.

Williams will be missed. But with James around, the Cavs have little to fear.

“He willed this win for us,” Cavs coach Mike Brown said of his star. “He has been doing that for us down the stretch, no matter who our opponent is.”

Bryant finished with 31 points but was only 4-of-15 in the second half as the Lakers lost the opener of an eight-game road trip. Pau Gasol scored 13 for Los Angeles, which shot just 33 percent in the final three quarters.

Bryant surpassed 25,000 career points, but he was unable to match James in the fourth quarter as both teams turned to their superstars.