They came for LeBron James, but they witnessed improvement.

Not enough improvement for the 76ers to actually win.

Not enough improvement to beat the very-strong Cleveland Cavaliers, led by the even-stronger James.

But it was enough to get the fans thinking that one of these days, the Sixers actually will defeat a winning basketball team.

Tonight, the Cavaliers beat the Sixers, 108-101.

Inside the Wachovia Center, 19,517 people - about 8,000 more than usual - were ready to watch one of the game's most recognizable players, King James, doing what he does.

James scored 36 points on 12-for-26 shooting with six rebounds and seven assists.

It was the Sixers' 13th loss in 14 games, but in this one, until the final few minutes when Cleveland decided it was winning time, the Sixers looked as if they were in it.

Through 25 games, the Sixers have yet to beat a team with a winning record.

The Sixers dropped to 6-19. Cleveland improved to 19-7.

Andre Iguodala's 26 points led five Sixers in double figures.

Sixers coach Eddie Jordan started Thaddeus Young and Samuel Dalembert in the frontcourt, but for much of the first half, he played Elton Brand and Marreese Speights there.

Young, the starting power forward, played many minutes at small forward. At both positions, Young finished easily, as if the rest of the league has forgotten he is lefthanded. On one transition bucket, he caught a lob from rookie Jrue Holiday and, in midair, redirected it into the hoop. Young made 6 of 12 shots in the first half and scored 14 points.

Speights, returning from a knee injury, scored on his first two touches. He finished the half playing 13 minutes, scoring six points.

Brand, coming off the bench, played 15 minutes and scored six points in the half.

The Sixers hung around.

Their only worry was the Cavaliers had their two main guys, James and Shaquille O'Neal, watching for the first part of the second quarter, as if wanting to play the duo just enough to enter the second half with a marginal lead.

The Cavaliers led at the half, 60-55. They made 56.8 percent of their shots from the field, 66.7 percent from the three-point line, and 82.4 percent from the free-throw line.

While Cleveland looked as if it was waiting for the more meaningful minutes, the Sixers looked desperate to get their first win over a winning opponent. In the half, the Sixers shot 55 percent from the field, 40 percent from three-point range, and 90 percent from the foul line.

Iguodala, who guarded James for most of the first half, scored 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting.

James had 14 points by halftime.

Iguodala and Young's combined 26 points accounted for most of the starting lineup's production. Center Dalembert did not score, and guards Allen Iverson and Holiday combined for only 10 points but had 11 assists between them by halftime.

Holiday finished the half with seven assists.

Contact staff writer Kate Fagan at 856-779-3844 or kfagan@phillynews.com.