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Jefferson's effort holds court

By the modest standards of Continental Airlines Arena,

it was a happening - a mostly full house, two of the NBA's hottest teams and

one of its most dazzling (and marketable) talents. The result was no classic,

but it satisfied the home fans and featured a clinic in versatility by the

Nets' Richard Jefferson, who played Cavaliers megastar LeBron James to a draw

in a 96-91 victory.

It was the seventh win in a row for the Nets (16-12), who lead the Atlantic

Division. The Cavs (17-10) also had won six straight entering the night.

"We're getting there," was all Jefferson would say when asked whether the

Nets are a good team yet.

The fact they have gotten this far is a testament to their three-star

system, which proved too much for Cleveland's James Gang.

James did his customary damage, totaling 31 points, 10 rebounds and eight

assists, but Jefferson made him work hard for all of it with his harassing

defense. He also had 28 points, six rebounds and four assists on a night when

the Nets' top scorer, Vince Carter, had both foul and shooting trouble.

Carter did score 21 points, but he shot only 5-for-19 from the field,

seemingly flummoxed by the inside presence of 7-3 Cavs center Zydrunas

Ilgauskas. Jefferson shot 9-for-11 and Jason Kidd had 14 points, nine rebounds

and nine assists.

What is it like having three strong options? "It's fun - for us," Carter

said.

Jefferson guarded James much of the night and held his own. "It's a tough

load," he said. "Both of us play 40-some minutes a night, out there chasing

each other. We are similar in size and athletic ability, so we match up pretty

well against each other. He's just a load."

Said Kidd: "It's very hard. Once he gets the RPMs going, he's probably the

toughest to stop, right there with AI [Allen Iverson]."

The Nets led 89-71 midway through the final quarter. Then the Cavs scored

12 in a row to make a game of it. Two Carter free throws, a Cleveland 24-second

violation and a dunk off an offensive rebound by Carter seemed to stem the

tide, but the Cavs got right back into it with back-to-back three-pointers to

make it 93-89 with 21 seconds left.

It was 94-91 after Eric Snow made a driving layup with 15.9 seconds on the

clock, but Kidd hit two free throws and James missed a three-point try to end

the threat.

The Nets began sluggishly before an announced sellout crowd of 20,098,

their third of the season, that included Mets manager Willie Randolph. They

fell behind 7-0 but gradually gained control and led by 15 points before

taking a 55-41 edge into halftime.

In one second-quarter stretch, Kidd assisted on consecutive baskets that

led to a total of five points, then added a basket himself on a fast break.

The 7-0 run lifted the Nets to their biggest lead of the half, 53-38.

Jefferson capped an 11-point quarter with a fadeaway jumper near the lane at

the halftime buzzer. The Nets shot 59 percent from the field in the half.

After the Nets briefly took a 16-point lead to start the third quarter,

their offense seemed strangely out of sync, and James led a quick 8-0 run. The

Cavs soon were within six by taking advantage of shoddy Nets shooting, but a

three-pointer from the left corner by Jefferson blunted the threat.

Kidd hit consecutive three-pointers to make it 74-58 with 2:53 left in the

third, then capped the quarter with a backdoor bounce pass to Jefferson, who

drove the baseline and dunked from the far side of the rim.

"The ballgame was they shot 59 percent from the field in the first half,"

James said. "We dug ourselves such a big hole it was tough to come back. Six

out of seven isn't bad."

For the Nets, seven out of seven was better.

Jefferson's big numbers

28

points

6

rebounds

9-of-11

shooting

NETS 96

CAVALIERS 91

New York Sports