CLEVELAND • As his minutes increased and his shots continued to fall, LeBron James did not have to plead too hard with coach Tyronn Lue to remain in the National Basketball Association game on Saturday.
With so many other players dragging their heavy legs around the court, James looked spry on a night with another milestone.
He scored a season-high 44 points and became the first front-court player to pass for 7,000 assists as the Cleveland Cavaliers recorded a 116-105 win over the Charlotte Hornets.
The milestone pass was vintage James, a skip pass down the lane to a streaking Tristan Thompson that few other players could even have seen, let alone complete.
It was his highest-scoring regular-season effort since returning to Cleveland and matched the 44 points he scored in an overtime loss against the Golden State Warriors in Game 1 of the NBA Finals in June last year.
It was quite a weekend for James, who scored 71 points in 80 minutes, moved into ninth place on the all-time scoring list and eclipsed 7,000 assists in two home wins against the Miami Heat and Hornets.
Number of assists LeBron James has amassed after Cleveland's win over Charlotte, moving him up to 16th on the all-time list.
"The last couple (of) years this is the best I've felt. And I told you guys I've put a lot of work into my body, into my craft," James said. "I've re-arranged a little bit with my diet and things of that nature and it's worked to my benefit. And for me to have back-to-back nights like this after coming off a long road trip, just shows that everything is working in the right direction."
Kemba Walker scored 24 points and Cody Zeller had 17 points and nine rebounds for the Hornets, who had their three-game winning streak snapped. This was the first stop in a five-game road trip for Charlotte.
Walker suffered a left knee contusion after colliding with James and is considered day-to-day, although Walker said he expects to play today at Indiana.
"It's not bad at all," he said. "At the moment it looked pretty bad, but I'm good. I was coming off a ball screen and he ran into me."
The Hornets fell behind by double figures in the first quarter and played from behind the rest of the night. Every time the Hornets rallied, James was there to swat them away.
His consecutive three-pointers late in the third quarter, after the Hornets pulled within 72-75, kept the Cavaliers in control the rest of the night.
"Listen, he passed, he rebounded, he made threes, he was great going to the basket," Hornets coach Steve Clifton said of James.
"He was phenomenal. He made three or four threes that he's going to make. You can't block them. You can't contest them. When he's shooting the ball like that, there's nothing you can do, other than blitz, and that's what he wants you to do, and then he really makes you look bad."
Kevin Love scored 22 points and Thompson had 13 points and 12 rebounds on a night when the Cavs shot a season-best 58 per cent from the floor to win their fourth straight game.
The Cavaliers' two best shooting nights of the season both came last weekend. The 55 per cent they shot on Friday against the Heat lasted just 24 hours.